Delaying legalising sex work in South Africa will impede the effective implementation of the new National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs. This is the warning from the South African National Aids Council (SANAC). 

Responding to the government’s decision to halt the implementation of the proposed decriminalisation of sex work bill, SANAC spokesman Nelson Dlamini says this means key and vulnerable populations will continue to be unreachable due to legal barriers.

“Contrary to popular belief decriminalisation of sex work will actually curb human traffic and enable the government to regulate the sector and make it safer,” Dlamini told Health-e News.

He says that it is concerning that police confiscate prevention commodities such as condoms from sex workers and use these as evidence against them in an arrest.

“That is a violation of sex worker human rights and there is no law prohibiting the carrying of condoms or limiting quantities thereof. That practice needs to stop and we must continually engage SAPS and other law enforcement arms to stop that practice”.

Decision is appalling

Katlego Rasebitse, Sisonke(National Sex Workers Movement in South Africa), National Organiser says the decision is appalling.

Rasebitse says that sex workers in South Africa constantly face various forms of abuse without any protection from law enforcement agencies. The continued criminalisation of sex work encourages some law enforcement officials to abuse sex workers, both physically and sexually, without fear of punishment.

“We are aware that the Justice and Correctional Services Minister(Ronald Lamola),  has canned progress on the decriminalisation of sex work bill until the next administration. We want it signed into law urgently”, Rasebitse says.

Hope fades

Last November the Cabinet approved the publishing of the Criminal Law(Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill of 2022, which speaks to the decriminalisation of sex work.

“We were all hopeful that the bill was going to become a reality soon, but the sudden decision by Minister Lamola to halt progress to decriminalise sex work is a clear lack of commitment to address gender-based violence and femicide(GBVF), equal access to healthcare and justice, economic freedom and freedom of choice and association by our ruling party and its Cabinet,” says Rasebitse.

Rasebitse says despite plans in place to address GBVF, HIV, TB, and STIs, the continued criminalisation of the industry hurt efforts to implement those plans.

“As a movement, we have been patient enough to over five administrations discussing the decriminalisation of sex work. The sixth administration made strides on the bill. But the sudden icing of the bill is a huge regression on gains” explains Rasebitse.

Human Rights Manager at the AIDS Foundation South Africa, Nontuthuzelo Fuzile, says their position is clear, as a human rights organisation, which centres its HIV prevention and other programmes on key populations.

“Criminalisation of sex work has done more harm. And its effects include sexual and gender-based violence incidents which result in the majority of female sex workers being victims,” says Fuzile. – Health-e News


  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.