WINDHOEK, 2 February 2012 – The Director of Namibia’s largest sex-workers’ organization, Rights not Rescue, has called upon the government to decriminalize sex work as an important step in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Nicodemus Aochumub, better known as ‘Mama Africa’, told Informanté:
“Government should decriminalize sex-work to make it easier for the industry to get access to universal health care and to enable them to lay charges with the police without the fear of being arrested.
Discriminating against sex workers will inevitably increase the HIV rate because they are helplessly exposed to abuse, even by police. We must unite in the fight against AIDS.”
Mama Africa, who has been in the industry for 32 years, knows of numerous instances where police humiliated and maltreated sex workers.
“How can we fight this deadly disease when law-enforcement officers take away condoms from the girls (sex workers)? They throw them away and tell us we don’t deserve to use condoms. Some police officers force us into sex, otherwise we will end up in jail,” the Director revealed.
Sex workers are regularly cracked down on by law-enforcers under the Combating of Immoral Practices Act. “This act is an apartheid law and must be abolished in an independent country. We (prostitutes) are not free even 21 years after independence. Prostitution is work and feeds many families,” emphasized Mama Africa.
Rights not Rescue has more than 1,000 members in all 13 regions of the country. The organization educates sex work on HIV and AIDS and also hands out condoms.
“We are trying our best to protect them and their health. One thing is for sure: Decriminalizing prostitution would make a great deal in the fight against this disease,” Mama Africa is convinced.
“We (sex workers) will throw our support behind those few more realistic and open-minded people like Kazenambo Kazenambo, whose only crime is to respect human rights,” he added.
The Youth Minister came under fire from high ranking SWAPO politicians for speaking out in favour of the legalization of prostitution. According to Mama Africa, many of their clients are high-ranking and influential members of society, yet Namibian society lives in denial and turns a blind eye one the plight of sex workers.
HIV infection among sex-workers has declined significantly in countries where sex work is legalised. Sex workers in Germany, for instance, are registered with the legal and health authorities, are required to undergo regular medical checks and pay tax.
Once again, decriminalization is the system with the best outcomes, health and safety-wise, for sex workers and those in the sex trade. Legalization systems like that in Germany are not the best systems for those outcomes because they set up a two-tiered system, of legal workers and illegal workers, with illegal workers still subject to police abuses and so forth. Better systems are found in New Zealand and New South Wales, Australia, where prostitution is completely decriminalized.