Law Reform Commission gives reasons for not decriminalising prostitution

The Law Reform Commission says it has not proposed for the decriminalisation of prostitution because it is not suited to the South African context

FILE: Members of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) demand decriminalisation of sex work. Picture: Sweat

PRETORIA – The Law Reform Commission says it has not proposed for the decriminalisation of prostitution because it is not suited to the South African context where there are high levels of poverty and gender-based violence.

The comments were made at the release for public comment of the commission’s report on adult prostitution.

The report is aimed at reviewing the fragmented legislative framework which regulates prostitution.

The commission’s Dellene Clark says the global conversation on prostitution focuses on three topics.

“Whether the sale of sexual services should be seen as work, exploitation and access to healthcare and HIV and the third is arbitrary arrest and abuse by third parties.”

She says they their recommendation for retaining criminalization was based on South Africa’s country specific context.

“We are looking at a country where we have poor borders, high numbers of illegal migrants, high unemployment and high levels of gender-based violence.”

The justice ministry says law amendments will only be considered after the report is discussed in Parliament.

At the same time, the Law Reform Commission's report has been described as dismal and disappointing by advocacy groups.

Several civil rights groups, including Sonke Gender Justice, the Triangle Project, and the Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Task (SWEAT) force, have expressed their disappointment with the findings.

SWEAT's Sally Shackleton says they are not very hopeful about the report, which she says is lacking in evidence from the start.

“The report is really dismal. We’ve had total criminalisation for a number of years now and partial criminalisation is just more of the same. So we are just disappointed, and this process is a waste of taxpayers’ time and money.”

The report is open for public comment and the Justice Ministry says law amendments will be considered once the report has been discussed in Parliament.