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Sex workers hit back at NPA boss

May 21, 2009, East London -- Leading up the FIFA’s 2010 World Cup soccer championship in South Africa, the question of decriminalising prostitution has become one of political and social importance for politicians and sex workers alike. The head of the National Prosecution Authority, Mokotedi Mpshe, gave his personal opinion on the decriminalisation debate by asking “What will happen to our morals if prostitution in South Africa is legalised for the 2010 Soccer World Cup?” South African sex workers responded to his comments and were none too pleased.

PROSECUTIONS boss Mokotedi Mpshe should play no role in deciding whether sex work should be legalised, insists the sex-workers’ NGO Sweat.

Sweat (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force) were reacting to his suggestion that legalising the industry would be bad for the country’s morals and lead to sex becoming a career.

They said they were dismayed as Mpshe’s view was short sighted, and failed to take note of either the realities on the ground or the respect for human rights enshrined in the Constitution.

“The criminalisation of sex work does not stop it from being a career,” Sweat director Eric Harper said. “It only makes it a career filled with insecurity, abuse and harassment.”

Vivienne Lalu, Sweat’s advocacy programme co-ordinator, said she would have expected Mpshe, who is acting head of the National Prosecuting Authority, to comment on the difficulties prosecutors had in enforcing existing laws on sex work and to make sound legal recommendations.

“Instead, his comments were limited to his personal moral views on the matter.”

While Sweat respected people’s right to hold a Christian moral view – which was essentially what Mpshe had been expressing – SA was a secular State, and it was inappropriate that those views should be enshrined in the country’s laws.

She said the services of sex workers were in any case already widely available throughout the country, advertised in daily newspapers, magazines and on the Internet.

“To some extent there is a de facto decriminalisation situation already because the criminal law hardly ever gets used,” she said.

Sweat quoted an anonymous Cape Town female sex worker as commenting on Mpshe’s remarks by saying she gave men pleasure and they gave her money to feed her children and put them through school. “The prosecutor says my job is immoral, but is it not immoral to stop me feeding and educating my children?”

Sweat said it would be making a detailed submission to the SA Law Reform Commission on its recently released discussion paper on adult prostitution, and encouraged sex workers to do the same.

The African Christian Democratic Party welcomed what it said was Mpshe’s “serious note of caution” on attempts to decriminalise sex work. — Sapa