Commercial sex workers demand recognition
19 April 2013, 14:17
Nairobi - Commercial sex workers are demanding official recognition and the same legal protection given to other workers.
Representatives today said successive governments’ reluctance to legalise the industry amounted to “living in denial.”
They have now petitioned the new government to address the legal and social problems hampering their trade.
In an interview with CAJ news in Nairobi today, chairperson of the Kenya Sex Workers Association Diana Oguta said having failed to stem unemployment, which now stands at 70 per cent, the government should legalise commercial sex to break the poverty cycle.
Kenya’s National Aids Control Council estimates there are more than 7,000 commercial sex workers in Nairobi alone while more are spread in main economic hubs of Kisumu, Eldoret and Mombasa as well as border towns of Busia and Malaba.
Oguta says the prostitutes want President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration to address their safety and stop local security agencies from harassing and arresting them.
Prostitution is illegal under Kenyan law, raising the ire of sex workers who ministry of health say account for 30 per cent of the country’s HIV and Aids infections.
In what many have described as a major sex revolution in East Africa, record numbers of sex workers have flooded Kenya’s cities.
The enterprising among them have formed self-help networks to help them beat off the vagaries of their job.
Most of them work in nightclubs, bars, and hotels.
Lately students at local tertiary colleges have also joined the fray in a bid to make money to pay for their needs.
In the recent past, prostitutes from Uganda, Zanzibar and South Sudan have been exploiting Kenya’s lax immigration laws to sneak into Nairobi's sex dens.
"There is booming business here and I didn't need a passport to come here so I opted to try Nairobi," says a shy Ugandan sex worker who identified herself only as Agnes.
“We are willing to be taxed. Some of us could pay even as much as KES 6,000 a month in taxes to the Kenya Revenue Authority,” says Oguta, adding some prostitutes are rich because they target high-end customers who pay thousands of shillings for their services.
Although their majority are unwilling to reveal their real identities or speak to journalists, they believe making the trade legal would ensure the rights of commercial sex workers are guaranteed besides empowering them to protect themselves by demanding safer sexual practices.
Opponents of prostitution, however, say that by legalising it like the case in neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya would be encouraging underage sex, trafficking in women and other illegal and exploitative behaviour.
“Legalise it at the country’s own peril. We do not want to have our morals go that low,” Bishop Sam Ochieng of the Pefa Church said in Nairobi.
“Legalizing commercial sex would be tantamount to luring schoolgirls to join the trade,” he added.
Last year, commercial sex workers demonstrated in Nairobi under the banner "sex workers rights are human rights," and "my body, my business" to press home demands for recognition.
The city of Nairobi has previously considered legalising the trade in designated streets, copying Amsterdam and Berlin.
Prostitution is legal in Canada, Denmark, France, Mexico, Israel, Thailand and Brazil where sex workers’ incomes are subjected to taxation.
“We want to look at what the Constitution says about commercial sex work. We will also look at the by-laws so that we help the commercial sex workers,” former Nairobi mayor Aladwa said.
In Nairobi, reports by the city council suggest that prostitutes serve three to four clients a night.
“Approximately 7,000 sex workers operate in Nairobi per night with each having an average of 3-4 clients, which translates to between 21,000 and 28,000 sexual activities a night,” a taskforce set up by former Nairobi mayor Aladwa reported last year.
But human rights activist Kiema Mtata says the trade should be legalised.
"There is no denying that joblessness is a monster in Kenya. If prostitution can responsibly be carried out, why not allow it to allow families put food on the table," he said.
- CAJ News