Pretoria - The South African Council of Churches in Tshwane has expressed disappointment about the process undertaken by the government to introduce a bill decriminalising the sale and purchase of sex in South Africa.
Its spokesperson Reverend Joseph Chabangu yesterday lamented the fact that the organisation was never consulted concerning the bill.
“As much as we are living in a secular world… in South Africa we claim to be a Christian country when you consider that almost half of the South Africans are Christians. But the Christians don’t have a voice in our country,” he said.
He said there was nothing that the church could do to stop the bill from being passed eventually.
“But we are saying this is not how we should live. This is not how our sisters should live. We think that if they could get a proper job, or our government can provide our people with jobs, I don’t think such a thing will happen. We will pray for our sisters that one day God will touch them and (they will) get a proper job,” Chabangu said.
The concerns were raised following updates by the Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola on progress on the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa through the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill.
The bill repeals the Sexual Offences Act (previously Immorality Act), 1957 (Act 23 of 1957) and also repeals Section 11 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 to decriminalise the sale and purchase of adult sexual services.
During a media briefing in Pretoria, Lamola said the proposed bill followed a two-step approach to sex work.
“It does not decriminalise and regulate the industry all at once. It deals with decriminalisation only, with regulation to follow at a later stage. It was thought to be important to deal with the decriminalisation first, so as to ensure that sex workers are no longer criminally charged.
“This will mean greater protection for sex workers. Decriminalisation will de-stigmatise sex work and enable access to basic services and protection by law enforcement agencies. Existing laws prohibiting children from selling sex and trafficking for sexual purposes, remain in force,” he said.
Regarding the regulation, he said municipal by-laws would still be able to provide where solicitation in public spaces may or may not take place.
For example, the by-laws would give guidance in terms of prohibiting the selling of sex in certain areas.
“This is similar to the prohibition on the location of taverns and shebeens, where there can be restrictions imposed to prohibit trade in residential neighbourhoods, near schools and/or religious buildings,” Lamola said.
According to him, the bill further sought to ensure that South Africa complied with its obligations conferred in terms of International Instruments.
“For example, in the concluding observations on the initial report of South Africa on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it was concerned that sex workers did not enjoy the rights covered by the agreement, owing to the criminalisation of the sale of sex.
“The committee recommended that South Africa consider decriminalising the sale of sex,” he said.
Deputy Justice and Correctional Services Minister John Jeffery explained that the bill had been approved by Cabinet for public comment on November 30 and the deadline for submission is January 31, 2023.
“Those comments will then be considered and taken back to the Cabinet to request approval to introduce in Parliament and in Parliament there will be an opportunity to engage with sex work advocacy groups,” he said.
He said the government would listen to inputs of those opposing discriminalisation and those wanting partial discrimination.
According to him, there has been a conversation with the SACC and with religious leaders, who raised their concerns on the bill.
“We got to look at the religious aspect with the reality that is happening in the country for some time,” Jeffrey said.
Sisonke Sex Workers’ Movement spokesperson Yonela Sinqu said in a television interview that it was unfortunate that there were still people who frowned upon sex work despite the atrocities facing sex workers.
“It is unfortunate for them because sex work is not going to go away; it has been there for decades. Criminalising it in 1957 hasn’t offered any solution because it just carried on. However, it just happened in more dangerous surroundings,” she said.
She said sex workers were looking for a healthy, working environment and “a bill that will enable us to work freely but protected as well as workers”.
Sinqu raised concerns that the bill has no provision for sex workers to seek for recourse for wrongs such as rape, unfair treatment or assault committed against them.
“Those are the things that are not addressed even now with the current situation,” she said.