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Call to legalise sex work to protect dignity of trade

PRETORIA, South Africa –   Decriminalisation of sex work is the first step to ensuring that the rights of practitioners in the trade and their dignity are protected and respected by authorities and communities.

Social Development Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said the first attitude everyone had to remove was the notion of “us versus them”.

She said this was because for those involved in sex work there was no exception, the only difference being whether one was pre-paid, pay-as-you-go, or contract sex work.

Bogopane-Zulu said it was through this acceptance and owning the title that everyone – including stakeholders – would be able to provide a better service to sex workers.

For her department, she said her team had not internalised the impact of sex work in their everyday work, especially as the custodians of families.

She said a lot of sex workers were mothers, and when children were left at home the first thing her department did was to simply take them away to foster care. “We’re very quick to send the social worker to remove the child as if the mother said she can’t take care of her children. Yet we are very slow to provide the psycho-social support when the mother needs it.

“I don’t think team social development has understood and internalised that working as a sex worker is not chosen as an inheritance. Our programmes do not look at assisting sex workers to ensure their daughters do not become sex workers themselves.”

The deputy minister said she would be first to admit that her department had failed in that respect.

“It was important to provide sex workers with tools so that they may have another choice.”

She was speaking yesterday during a National Sex Worker Dialogue with Deputy Minister for the Department of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla.

Phaahla said in 2018, the South African Health Monitoring Study had reported that HIV prevalence was lowest in female sex workers aged between 16 and 24 years, peaking among older sex workers from 34 years.

He said they also found that 73% to 87% of sex workers were aware of their status, and 41% to 71% were on antiretrovirals, with 73% to 88% being virally suppressed.

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