Embrace Dignity takes call to Parliament to end prostitution in South Africa
On Wednesday, 26 April, a day before South Africans across the country celebrated Freedom Day, Embrace Dignity marched to Parliament to deliver a petition to President Jacob Zuma to demand freedom for those still enslaved through prostitution and sex trafficking in this country.
During Embrace Dignity’s #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom march, the organisers handed over a petition that calls on the President to release the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) final report on Adult Prostitution and enact the Equality Law to end prostitution and sex trafficking in South Africaa.
The Equality Law model (or partial decriminalisation) will decriminalise prostituted individuals and support them in exiting the sex trade, while penalising those who purchase sex and those who profit from the exploitation.
“We intentionally marched on the eve of Freedom Day to demand that the freedom of women, girls and other marginalised persons in prostitution is realised, protected and promoted,” said Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, the Executive Director of Embrace Dignity.
The Equality Law is the only legal framework that does all of the following:
- promote and protect gender equality and human rights;
- promote exit and offers support;
- mandate the government to provide prostituted individuals with comprehensive medical services, economic and educational opportunities, and alternative livelihood programmes;
- address the demand by holding those who purchase sex accountable for the harm they cause and educating them that women’s bodies are not for sale;
- challenge patriarchy and inequality as the underlying factors that drive prostitution; and
- educate society about the structural causes of prostitution.
“We recognise that the issue of how to deal with prostitution is contested. That is why we particularly want the government to release the final report of the South African Law Reform Commission on Adult Prostitution so that the public can engage with the issue and find a solution for the better common good,” added Madlala-Routledge.
In 2009, in response to the need to address the harms of the sex trade, the SALRC published a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution and handed over their final report emanating from this paper and engagement with general society (refer to detailed background below) to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services in November 2015.
The four major legal models they identified are:
- total criminalisation of adult prostitution (the status quo in South Africa currently);
- total decriminalisation of adult prostitution, including pimping and the purchase of sex;
- legalisation or regulation of prostitution, including pimping and the purchase of sex; and
- partial decriminalisation (referred to as the Equality Law model by Embrace Dignity).
An evaluation of these frameworks along with recommendations was also included in the report, which will be published by the Minister after it has been considered by the Cabinet.
“The march to Parliament was therefore also to urge the government to release the report on prostitution in order to open up public debate on a lingering and growing form of oppression in the world and this country and enact the Equality Law,” said Madlala-Routledge.
According to the organisation, while the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic is often used to justify the call for total decriminalisation of the sex trade in South Africa, survivors they have assisted to exit such as Grizelda Grootboom and other prostituted individuals report that the ability to negotiate condom use is a myth, given the power and control imposed on them by buyers and pimps.
“By enacting the Equality Law, the South African government will affirm that women, girls and marginalised persons are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those purchasing sex. We encourage the South African government to affirm that the lives of women, girls and marginalised persons matter and to become the first African country to adopt a law that will solely decriminalise prostituted persons and curb the demand for prostitution.”
Background To The Equality Law Model
Discussions around how to legislate Adult Prostitution in South Africa has been an ongoing one which started in 1998 with the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) expansion of an issue paper (a short essay on a specific topic) on Sexual Offences By and Against Children to include “all sexual crimes by and against adults”. This paper led to a review of “all common law and statutory sexual offence crimes” and an investigation, which was further expanded by the then Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. Named the SALRC Project 107: Sexual Offences and with a sub-project focused on Adult Prostitution, the SALRC decided to divide its investigation into “four separate offence papers”, “dealing with the substantive law, the procedural law (both to the exclusion of adult prostitution), adult prostitution and pornography”. This process would take the form of an issue paper followed by a discussion paper which would culminate in a report and, where necessary draft legislation.
Between 1999 and 2001, discussion papers on the Substantive Law (rules that determine the rights and obligations of individuals and collective bodies) and the Procedural Law (practices and procedures that courts and lawyers for example must follow to properly try a case) was published, with the latter culminating in a Report. By 2004, a bill was tabled and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 known as the Sexual Offences Amendment Act was passed.