HIV/AIDS is one of the most serious problems confronting post-apartheid South Africa. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV infection among adults and children in the world, with 5.7 million infected persons.
The disease has spread throughout the country and is mostly transmitted through sexual contact. This epidemic fuels the parallel epidemics of tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Adult HIV prevalence in South Africa climbed from less than 3% to an estimated 18.1% over the first decade of democracy.
Why was sex work decriminalised?
Sex work is prohibited in South Africa. Sex work is illegal according to the country’s Criminal Code.
Local by-laws also contain sections that criminalise sex work, such as "importuning any individual for the intent of prostitution and soliciting sex workers are not legally protected.
Sex workers are more vulnerable to violence by police, clients, third parties, and brothel owners due to the laws and associated marginalisation. Sex workers are frequently targeted by authorities and are more vulnerable to assault since they must work in unsafe, isolated settings to avoid detection. South Africa's current approach to sex work is one of criminalisation and prohibition.
On May 26, 2017, South African Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha addressed the press about launching the South African Law Reform Commission's Report on Sexual Offenses: Adult Prostitution (SALRC). The report was written in 2015. However, it was just released in May 2017.
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South African Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha[/caption]
Johannesburg, South Africa — South Africa announced on Friday that it would decriminalise sex work to combat high levels of crime against women in a country with one of the highest HIV caseloads in the world. Under proposed legislation from the Justice Ministry, the selling and purchasing of sexual services will no longer be considered a crime.
According to advocacy groups, there are over 150,000 sex workers in the country.
"It is hoped that decriminalisation will minimise human rights violations against sex workers," Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told a press briefing. "It would also mean better access to health care and... afford better protection for sex workers, better working conditions and less discrimination and stigma."
South Africa has one of the world's highest HIV caseloads and is experiencing increased violence against women.
Between July and September, there was a double-digit surge in female killings, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele, with nearly 1,000 women killed. Rapes were also up 11 per cent during the period, with 10,000 cases reported, he said.
“With sex workers no longer labelled as criminals, they can work much better with the police to tackle violence,” a sex worker rights group SWEAT wrote on Facebook, welcoming the bill as “incredible news.”
Some recent grisly occurrences have outraged the nation. Notably, the October recovery of half a dozen remains, some of which were thought to be missing sex workers, from a building in Johannesburg.
South Africa's post-apartheid constitution is among the most liberal in the world, with progressive abortion and same-sex marriage laws, but sex work has long been a contentious topic.
The law, submitted for public discussion, solely addresses decriminalisation and does not address the regulation of the sex business, which Lamola stated will come later.
Parliament must then approve the proposed legislation before it can become law, which will take several months.