‘Voices of sex workers are being heard’

Sex work could soon be recognised as work. Photo: File

Sex work could soon be recognised as work. Photo: File

Published Dec 20, 2022


Durban - Advocates for the decriminalisation of sex work are confident that they will soon enjoy the fruits of their labour now that the government has heard the voices of sex workers.

With a plan to form a sex industry trade union, of regulation and registration of pimps and brothels and the elimination of under-age sex workers, those in the sex workers’ corner believe the dignity of women in the industry will be restored.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development had gazetted the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill for public comment.

The purpose of the bill was to repeal the Sexual Offences Act of 1957 as well as section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2007 to decriminalise the sale and purchase of adult sexual services.

Constance Mathe, co-ordinator at Asijiki Coalition, a civil society group that has been advocating the full decriminalisation of sex work for 26 years, said they were happy with the proposed changes as this would give sex workers the freedom to earn a living and to be recognised as any other employee.

“It has been a long journey filled with challenges and difficulties. We are excited as an organisation and sex workers on the ground are just as happy because this has always been their wish,” she said. “Although the government has delayed, we are finally here and they are listening to the voices of sex workers.”

Mathe shared that together with the Sisonke Movement, an organisation formed by sex workers for sex workers, they had created framework which would guide the industry.

“We want brothels to be registered and to operate under existing labour laws. Sex workers must be able to have working hours because at the moment human rights are being violated with sex workers working long hours,” said Mathe.

“We want sex workers to receive benefits like any other employee and to able to approach the CCMA (the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration). We want the law to take control and monitor the situation and for sex workers to be protected.”

Mathe said once the industry has been decriminalised, the Sisonke Movement would register a trade union. Those wishing to operate within the industry would then need to be affiliated with the union.

“They would need to sign a memorandum of agreement but if they fail to comply they will not be able to operate and will be reported to authorities,” she said.

“We also do not work with under-age children. Sex work is for adults. What we want to do is refer all those under age to the relevant institutions and take them out of the industry.”

The move to decriminalise sex work has been well received by those in the industry. Photo: eXpose Hope.

Mathe said they were prepared for opposition and would face opponents head-on. She said decriminalisation was for sex workers and not for those seeking to rob others of their human rights.

“Sex workers must be allowed to enjoy and exercise their human rights like any other person. Those against decriminalisation must speak of their moral issues far away from human rights and not deprive sex workers,” she said.

“In the next few months we want to see proper procedure being followed in Parliament, all the important stages until the bill is passed.’’

Martin van Staden, deputy head of policy research at the South African Institute of Race Relations, said they welcomed the proposal to decriminalise the sale and purchase of sexual services.

“If the Criminal Law Amendment Bill is adopted, there is great promise that those involved in the provision and purchase of sexual services will have their individual freedom recognised and their civil rights upheld by no longer being persecuted by the authorities, but rather protected,” he said.

“With the high rates of violent crime in South Africa, this move would additionally free up police resources to deal with more harmful offences.”

Members of the public have until January 31 to make their inputs.