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Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address failed to address sex worker issues, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) said on Thursday.
The omission was despite Zuma acknowledging that crimes against women, children and marginalised groups remained high, Sweat director Sally-Jean Shackleton said in a letter addressed to Zuma and Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu.
This was even though such crimes had decreased in the last five years, according to police statistics.
“The commitment to improving workers' rights is applauded but excluded a recognition of the fact that sex workers have limited labour law protection due to the criminalised status of sex work,” Shackleton said.
Steps that would reduce assault, rape, harassment, and intimidation of sex workers by police were needed.
Shackleton said sex workers were mistreated and discriminated against at public healthcare facilities, and by the courts.
Zuma's silence on sex work undermined the safety and well-being of sex workers, whose human rights were compromised under the current legal dispensation.
This was despite sex workers having rights which the Constitution purported to respect and protect.
She said no progress had been made regarding the SA Law Reform Commission's project 107, on adult prostitution, a situation that had remained the same for the last 13 years.
This was despite Zuma, in replying to a parliamentary question in October 2013, stating seven commissioners had been appointed to deal with the matter.
Shackleton said a recent study by the Women's Legal Centre showed that 30 percent of sex workers in South Africa's five biggest cities experienced abuse by police officers.
“Criminalisation accordingly drives sex workers even further to the margins of our society,” she said.
She called on Zuma to prioritise addressing human rights violations against sex workers, via a law-reform process that would decriminalise adult, consensual sex work.