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15 May 2016

South Africa may become the first African country to decriminalise sex work. If it does, it will be one of a handful of countries that have fully decriminalised sex work (including New Zealand and New South Wales in Australia), and the first African country to do so. Currently only Senegal makes some provision for legal sex work and subjects it to regulation…

Sex work without interference

Decriminalisation would help reduce these multiple rights violations. It would enhance the abilityimage-20160512-16396-13xsts6 of sex workers to work without interference. It will make it easier for them to seek services and redress. This view is advocated by organisations such as the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce and Sonke Gender Justice, as well as the Commission for Gender Equality. Even the African National Congress Women’s League has nailed its colours to this mast.

Opposing these views are radical feminist claims that “prostitution” is never a choice, but rather an instance of exploitation of women. Women’s lack of agency in engaging in sex work should be recognised. Proponents of this view argue that women should be assisted to exit sex work.

This has resulted in the so-called “Swedish model”, which seeks to eliminate demand for sex work by criminalising clients, but not sex workers. Prominent among South African advocates of this position is the lobby group, Embrace Dignity.

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