MDC pushing to legalize prostitution
HARARE — A senior MDC official has started a movement of sex workers campaigning for the decriminalization of the world’s oldest profession.
Thabita Khumalo, deputy spokesperson for the MDC and MP for Bulawayo East says she has already mobilized over 300 commercial sex workers, in Bulawayo where they launched the movement.
She says some of the Bulawayo women who are members of the movement already have business cards, a sign of professionalism.
She has now moved to Harare, where she is prowling red light districts at night mobilizing for support.
Khumalo told the Daily News in an interview yesterday that she hopes to push Parliament to debate the matter in the first quarter of 2012.
Decriminalizing prostitution would tackle three fundamental issues-corruption, HIV/Aids and women’s rights-she says.
Hoping to raise more than 1 000 signatures from sex workers, Khumalo says she is confident legislators will support the movement.
“We intend to raise over 1 000 signatures from commercial sex workers and present them in a Sex workers movement
petition to Parliament in the first quarter of 2012 to press legislators to amend the law and decriminalize prostitution,” said Khumalo.
Khumalo said it would be easy to establish a database of commercial sex workers and monitor their HIV status, if they are regularized.
“If people believe that commercial sex workers are the biggest drivers of HIV, let’s regularize the profession and be able to monitor them,” said Khumalo.
She said despite the criminalization of prostitution in Sub Sahara Africa, the region still experiences the highest rate of new HIV infections as opposed to countries like Germany and Italy where prostitution is legalized.
Latest indications, Khumalo said, showed that married women were more vulnerable to HIV than commercial sex workers because unlike the latter, a married woman cannot demand protected sex from her husband.
“President Robert Mugabe has called for Zero new HIV infections and Zero HIV related deaths by 2015 and we are also calling for Zero stigmatization to prostitution in order to save lives,” said Khumalo.
She blamed the police for the way they handled sex workers and said she feared that pattern of behavior might continue unless prostitution is decriminalized.
Commercial sex workers, like any other citizens, need protection from various forms of abuse and the current legal framework makes them more vulnerable from police brutality and corruption, she said.
“Police are using the law to violate the law. They arrest sex workers to solicit for free unprotected sex. Sometimes you will see the same policemen that have arrested the sex workers dropping them in the same street after being paid in cash and kind,” said Khumalo.
She said the law in Zimbabwe exposes women to abuse with police picking women walking alone during late hours and accusing them of soliciting for sex yet it will be the police officers soliciting for sex.
Khumalo said because prostitution is a criminal offense, most commercial sex workers were not accessing antiretroviral treatment from public hospitals due to stigmatization.
“They don’t get treatment because they are stigmatized by the same institutions that should help them. They do not have medical aid insurance because they do not have pay slips and when they go to government hospitals, they are asked to bring their partners. Now how do they bring their partners when the partners are other people’s husbands?” she asked.
Zimbabwe is not the only country to push for decriminalizing of prostitution. Some countries in the region like Botswana and South Africa are also considering such proposals.
Similar proposals are also under consideration before United Kingdom legislators after they were sounded earlier by British Prime Minister David Cameron last year.
Eight European countries consider adult prostitution as legal, with a sex worker group in Germany claiming that the profession was booming, although it is still stigmatized.
Sex workers in Germany pay taxes and contribute to the national economy.
According to the daily Der Tagesspiegel, 150 000 sex workers were registered in Germany by January 2011 while 250 000 were thought to be unlicensed.
Recently, Taiwan legalized prostitution in its territory, making it the second eastern Asian country to do so after Singapore.
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