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Процветающее занятие, но до сих пор нет реформ

But will it improve working conditions for thousands of women who sell sex? The answer, according to the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (Sweat), is a qualified yes.

Sweat, a non-profit organisation based in Cape Town, educates sex workers on health and human rights, and is lobbying for law reform to decriminalise adult sex work in South Africa. “We support any relief that legalising the sex trade would bring for sex workers, but we are pushing for longer-term law reform,” said Vivienne Lalu, Sweat’s training coordinator.

Lalu welcomed the fact that Selebi’s call had brought the legal status of prostitution into the public arena. But she argued that thorough-going decriminalisation, giving sex workers the same freedoms as any other service provider, was what was really needed.

Legalisation -- involving state regulation through the creation of official red-light districts, the registration of sex workers and mandatory health checks -- might not bring an improvement and could create a “two-tier industry”, she argued. Sex workers who did not comply with the regulations might be driven underground, where they would operate outside the protection of the law.

Helene Combrink, of the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape and Sweat’s part-time acting director, agreed: “Street sex workers, who already constitute the poorer, more marginalised sector of the industry, will find it much harder to comply with the conditions of legalisation. In practice, they will probably be in much the same position as they are now.”

Combrink argued that only through decriminalisation can sex workers’ rights be protected.

Prostitution is currently a crime in terms of the Sexual Offences Act, as are living off the earnings of a sex worker, selling sex and making a profit from someone selling sex.

“We are trying to get people to view sex work as a form of work, rather than as a challenge to people’s morality,” said Lalu. “Legalisation isn’t a model to support, and Selebi’s temporary legalisation will just to help the state cope during a high-profile event.”

An East Rand sex worker who spoke to the Mail & Guardian also rejected the proposal to legalise the trade, viewing it as little more than a government move to “collect the tax” from her earnings.

In the run-up to the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany there was much media speculation that the event would cause a rise in the trafficking of women for sex. But Sweat believes that similar fears about 2010 are unfounded. Instead, said Lalu, there may be a “voluntary migration” of sex workers to the country for the event.

Charné, works privately with two other women, Pretoria East: I think that in 2010 we aren’t going to see more foreigners than we see now. There are so many foreigners already. The thing about the traders is that all the guys coming in from overseas, and locally, prefer the boeremeisies. That’s a fact -- the boeremeisies are doing it, not the black girls. I see foreign men, but only the ones that are white. Our industry should be legalised; we don’t feel the law but we think if the law makes us legal we can pay taxes and have normal lives. I can’t bank all the money I make because otherwise I have to pay something like 40% tax on it. If the law makes it legal the money won’t lie around in safes and stuff.

Angie, advertises herself in the newspaper classifieds: Prostitution should not be legalised! The girls are so young; some who say they are 20 and 19 are only 15. The government should rather take care of the girls first, so that they don’t have to do this. I’ve done a nail course and a computer course, but I can’t get a job because I don’t have the experience.

Kareena, agency manager, Sandton: Legalise us -- for security reasons. Instead of all the rape and violence that goes on out there, our clients come to us for a service, relieve themselves and there are no strings attached. Three-quarters of the women in this industry are single mothers trying to put food on the table.

If it [sex work] is legalised they can move girls off the streets and into houses, clubs and agencies where it’s safer and it’s done discreetly. And if it’s legalised, girls can have conferences and things like that where they can be educated and made aware of their rights. Currently girls can’t go to the cops if a client doesn’t pay or they are beaten up. I would be happy to have the profession taxed if it meant it afforded us some status and protection.

Chris, originally from Cameroon, Randburg: By 2010 business will boom. There will be more people coming down. I already know some guys from Congo and Nigeria doing the same business. Prostitution should be made legal, people should be free to do it, then more people can get jobs instead of committing crimes. If they make it legal we will have the right to work and the police will not come and harass us; take bribes in order to let you go. If I am still in the business by 2010 I hope to make enough money during the World Cup to start my own business.

Lizzie, she-male, Bordeaux: Personally I think 2010 will be a highlight in the profession, but I would like to see more protection for people in the industry. Currently we live in a bit of a war zone, because we don’t know who we’re going to get.

Mail & Guardian Online