'Prostitution should be legalised'

The Gender Commission says to protect sex workers from abuse, prostitution should be decriminalised.

FILE: Sex workers and members of SWEAT demonstrate against alleged harassment by police outside the Cape Town High Court. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA

JOHANNESBURG - The Commission for Gender Equality on Thursday said it now formally believes prostitution should be decriminalised.

The commission said if sex work was legalised, it would help protect prostitutes from abuse and would not lead to more people becoming sex workers.

The Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) said the announcement by the commission could change the national debate on the issue.

SWEAT director Sally Shackleton said this was progress.

"It's a very positive and brave move and far too many of us are just not having this conversation."

She added that the current system wasn't working.

"The levels of abuse that are currently being experienced and the waste of state resources that could be diverted into programmes to assist sex workers are currently being spent to prosecute and persecute them."

But the African Christian Democratic Party's (ACDP) Steve Swart believes most people won't agree with the commission's position.

"We firmly believe that many South Africans would be opposed to the decriminalisation of prostitution."

He added that this was the wrong direction.

"We've looked at other countries where this has taken place and it has not assisted in dealing with the issue of prostitution."

This issue was discussed at the ANC policy conference last year, but no formal position was adopted.