The Namibian (Windhoek)

30 May 2013

Namibia: UN Wants Prostitution Laws Changed

A UNITED Nations Special Rapporteur has recommended that provisions relating to sex work in Namibia be repealed, stating that the “stigma, discrimination and violence” suffered by sex workers in the country often discourages them from accessing public services, particularly health care, a situation that is hampering efforts to reduce the spread of HIV-AIDS in the country.

In addition, rapporteur Magdalena Sepúlveda states that the criminalisation of sex work in Namibia creates a climate of impunity that fosters further violence and discrimination against sex workers.

Sepúlveda's findings and recommendations are contained in a report titled ‘Extreme Poverty and Human Rights' in Namibia, following her mission to the country from 1-8 October 2012.

The findings will be shared at the 23rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland, which started yesterday and will run until 14 June 2013. Namibia is represented at the meeting.

“It (stigma, discrimination and violence) also discourages them (sex workers) from seeking justice and redress when their rights are violated. The discrimination that they suffer is also often evident in other spheres such as education and employment,” the report reads.

During her visit, Sepúlveda heard testimonies from sex workers of recurring police abuse and high levels of violence, including the confiscation of condoms, arbitrary detention and rape.

“Such abuse severely compromises sex workers' personal safety as well as their right to equal protection of the law. Due to these multi-faceted human rights violations, sex workers remain disproportionately affected by HIV,” the report reads.

Sepúlveda welcomed the National Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS 2010/11 - 2015/16 which identifies sex workers as a priority, but she outlined that the information on the extent of sex work in Namibia and the needs and challenges faced by this group of people remains limited.

“There are no national guidelines for effective, rights-based programming for this sector of the population,” she said.

“In line with its human rights obligations, Namibia is obliged to provide all persons equal and effective protection of the law and take measures to prevent and combat indirect systemic discrimination on the form of legal rules, policies, practices or predominant cultural attitudes in either the public or private sector which create relative disadvantages for some groups in the enjoyment of their rights.”

She said HIV-AIDS epidemic is “the most pressing health issue” in Namibia.

She recommended that government repeal the provisions relating to sex work in the Combating of Immoral Practices Act 21 of 1980 and all similar municipal regulations. She further recommends for the provision of training to all health service providers and law enforcement agents, in relation to their obligations and attitudes towards sex workers.

“Ensure that law enforcement personnel are held accountable for any act of violence or abuse against sex workers and improve mechanisms of legal recourse for sex workers, develop support systems, both legal and counseling, for sex workers,” she wrote.

She further recommends for the strengthening of the capacity of organisations representing sex workers by providing a platform for their participation in public decision-making processes that affect them.

Prostitution and all forms of sex work is illegal in Namibia.

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