Kenya: Sex Workers Urge State to Legalise Their Work


Commercial sex workers in Busia County on Saturday marked the International Sex Worker Rights Day with an appeal to the national government to legalise their work.

Busia Survivors programme manager Caroline Kemunto led the team to clean Busia County Referral Hospital compound and wards after a peaceful procession in the town.


They wore orange T-shirts with the words 'giving back to the society'.

Ms Kemunto said that sometimes when conducting their business, some clients refuse to use protection, assault them, steal valuables or sometimes refuse to pay for the services.

She added that they are also constantly harassed and arrested by police.

"This is just a job like any other. We want it decriminalised and anybody who wishes to practice be allowed to do so without conditions. We have also encouraged our members to display high level of professionalism towards clients," Ms Kemunto said.

There are about 3,000 female sex workers and 500 men who have sex with men in Busia County, according to the manager of the organisation.

"When we started this organisation in 1999, HIV prevalence rate was 28 per cent but at the moment it has reduced to about six per cent. We have achieved this through sensitisation of our members on how to use condoms," she said.

The Nation could not independently verify the claim on HIV prevalence.


A male sex worker, Bernard Wabwire alias Mama Africa, said they are proud of their job and should not be seen as outcasts.

"This job puts food on my table at the end of the day and it pays well. We appeal to the National Government and County Government of Busia to protect us from harassment meted on us by police and clients who steal from us," said the father of two.

"Our female counterparts are not stigmatised like us. There are many outside there who want to join the movement but fear how the society will look at them."


Ms Kemunto added that they chose the Busia hospital as their centre of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as most of their members who test positive for HIV are referred to the facility for medical attention.

"We have a test and refer centre whose role is to give members test services before referral for treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and HIV. We do so to reduce the level of stigmatisation from some of the service providers towards sex workers," she said.

Ms Kemunto denounced the notion that all their members are HIV-positive. She said those who are HIV-infected have been enrolled in support groups and their viral load has reduced drastically.

Ms Kemunto added that the organisations' sensitisation initiatives to health officers have reduced stigmatisation towards sex workers.

"Our aim is to cement the relationship between the sex workers and health officials," she said.


Ms Kemunto urged those who test positive for HIV not to despair as anti-retroviral drugs available to help them lead a normal life.

"We also have PreP for those who are at risk, but we always encourage our members to practice safe sex," she said.

Ms Kemunto, however, raised concern that they were losing clients to neighbouring Uganda at an alarming rate due to the high cost of living, goods and services in Kenya.

"Business has gone down in Kenya and we are losing clients to Uganda which has cheap liquor, good recreational hotspots and accommodation facilities.

"The government should check the cost of some of these goods and try to make life accommodative," she said.

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