Sunday, February 10, 2008

South African Politician: Legalise Prostitution to Combat Rape & Human Trafficking at the World Cup

Cape Town, South Africa

From Play the Game:

South African parliamentarian George Lekgetho of the ruling ANC party has proposed that South Africa legalises prostitution for the duration of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in order to prevent instances of rape, as well as bring in revenue for the government to help the unemployed. His suggestion is the latest development in an ongoing debate in South Africa about how to tackle prostitution and human trafficking before the World Cup kicks off in two years time.

Advancing a crude rationale based upon supply and demand, Lekgotho told a Parliamentary committee that legalising prostitution would be “one of the things that would make [the World Cup] a success because we hear of many rapes, because people don’t have access to them.” Lekgotho backed up his case on socio-economic grounds saying that “if sex working is legalised people would not do things in the dark. That would bring us tax and would improve the lives of those who are not working,” reports the South African Press Association.

South African newspaper The Times denounced the logic of the Lekgotho’s argument, which appears to endorse the opinion that rape is generally a case of releasing sexual frustration rather [than] an act of violence based upon deeper underlying psychological issues. Furthermore, the fiscal justification for his suggestion was criticised on ethical grounds by opposition MP Sydney Opperman who stated that “You cannot attach a price to the deepest union between a man and a woman and link it to our tax base,” writes the South African Press Association.

The BBC reports that Lekgotho’s idea drew laughter and groans of protest in the South African parliament when he presented it to a parliamentary arts and culture committee. However, his plan was not rejected outright by the committee, with the Director General of the Arts and Culture Department agreeing with committee member Christopher Gololo that the matter should be “thrown to the public to debate.”

Prostitution Under Consideration

Concerns over prostitution as a result of an influx of predominantly male football supporters during the World Cup are not new in South Africa and Lekgotho is not the first senior South African official to suggest legalising prostitution in time for the tournament.

Jackie Selebi, the former National Police Commissioner and president of Interpol (currently suspended on allegations of corruption), suggested to a government committee in March 2007 that prostitution and public drinking be legalised or at least tolerated for the duration of the World Cup as the police force lacked the manpower to enforce the law in these areas. “I want you to apply your minds to my dilemma of what to do with the thousands of soccer hooligans expected to imbibe in public spaces and those who would feel the urge to try out other more exotic pastimes both currently illegal in South Africa” he told a parliamentary safety and security committee. “You as a committee must be sitting and thinking of how we are going to get around this. If a visiting fan is out on the street having a bottle of beer, must I arrest him, because it is illegal?”

The South African public has been less responsive to calls for legalisation of prostitution during the tournament however, with 79% of South Africans against the idea according to a survey carried out by African Response in June 2007. This lack of enthusiasm has been echoed by many public health and sex workers’ rights organisations, which criticise the emphasis being placed upon potential clients – soccer hooligans and potential rapists according to Selebi and Lekgotho respectively – rather than on the prostitutes themselves. Many believe that offering alternatives for prostitutes rather than the legalisation of the trade is the only workable solution.

Concerns Over Trafficking

Debbie Toughey, a former prostitute now working for the public health charity, Doctors for Life, believes that past experience shows that toleration of prostitution will act as a magnet for traffickers. Legalisation would simply mean “rolling out the welcome mat for organised crime syndicates who trade in human lives, exploiting the poor and desperate, and forcing them into the sex trade,” she said in a statement after Selebi’s suggestion to Parliament. “Approximately 40,000 women and children were trafficked into Germany to accommodate the demand for sex during the World Cup Games. The same can be expected for South Africa.”

However, Professor Vasu Reddy of the Human Sciences Research Council believes that legalisation or toleration may be the best way to prevent trafficking before the World Cup commences due to the clandestine nature of trafficking. “Statistics [on trafficking] are anecdotal evidence because cases of human trafficking are rarely reported and the victims who have been trafficked don't report it to the authorities. There is still a need for evidence-based research,” Reddy told delegates at a seminar on the issue of trafficking in December 2007. By bringing prostitution into the open, Reddy believes it will become harder to force the victims of trafficking into prostitution as greater government regulation of the industry will make it harder to hide away evidence of trafficking from the authorities.

However, given Jackie Selebi’s belief that there would not be enough officers to police prostitution and public alcohol consumption during the tournament, the ability of the government to oversee a regulated prostitution industry during the World Cup seems unlikely.

1 comment:

  1. There is so many migrants and undocumented women and children in South Africa at the moment, I think it is difficult, near impossible to assist the trafficked victims when all forms of prostitution are illegal. I personally agree that prostitution should be legalised (not just for 2010) as it enables support groups to help the women, such as medical attention, counselling, substance abuse assistance and protection against the authorities. It also may make it easier to identify trafficked victims.