Is Zim ready to legalise prostitution?

THE recent Constitutional Court (Con-court) decision to outlaw the arbitrary arrest of women on allegations of soliciting for paid sex on the streets has seen a sudden surge of sex workers in Harare’s Avenues area that are now lining up their services from as early as 7am.

The Avenues area, considered as Harare’s red light sex district has in recent days since the Con-court judgment witnessed suspected prostitutes parading themselves in broad daylight, a practice usually practised under darkness.

Since the ruling, hailed by many women and civic organisations, police arrests of suspected sex workers loitering along streets have temporarily stopped as police details now completely ignore their presence.

The Con-court’s ruling seems to have been interpreted differently by many desperate young unemployed women as a clearance for them to openly indulge in sex work, hence disturbing reports that most of those who used to operate in the ghettos are now trooping into the Central Business District, (CBD) where there is high traffic.

Just like the controversial vending that has engulfed the CBD; the recent Con-court ruling will see a flooding of the streets by sex workers.

In its judgment, the Con-court has however not legalised prostitution but was of the opinion that as long as there were no men who would confirm being approached by the women for the service, the police arrests were unconstitutional.

Arrest statistics show that where buying and selling sex are equally illegal, the tendency is to arrest the service provider and not the customer, even though there are significantly more customers than sellers. Thus, it is a fact that more women than men are arrested, and the true extent of the crime is underreported.

In high density suburbs, the main shopping centres are now a hive of activity in the evenings as sex workers line-up offering sexual services.

In Zimbabwe and prior independence in 1980, colonial vagrancy laws were used against sex workers. In 1983 there was a major effort to eliminate sex work in post-independence Zimbabwe by rounding up hundreds of women and detaining them until they could prove they were not involved in the trade.

In 2011 former MDC legislator Thabita Khumalo proposed that prostitution in Zimbabwe be decriminalised. She stated that decriminalising  sex work would address three important issues, corruption, HIV/Aids and women’s rights.

Khumalo, who has suggested that the word “prostitute” be changed to “pleasure engineer” is supported by the  Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN), in addition to the workers themselves.

The UK-based Open Society Foundation reported in 2012 that the police were the greatest abusers of sex workers in Zimbabwe.
Although sex work is mainly performed by female prostitutes there are also male, transgender and transvestite  prostitutes performing straight and/or gay sex work.

In Zimbabwe where prostitution is considered illegal, the prohibition of the sex trade is subject to debate and controversy among some people and some organisations.

Some feminist organisations are opposed to prostitution, considering it a form of exploitation in which males dominate women, and as a practice that is the result of a patriarchal social order.

For example, the European Women’s Lobby, which bills itself as the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union, has condemned prostitution as “an intolerable form of male violence”.

Views on what the best legal framework on prostitution should be are often influenced by whether one can view prostitution as morally acceptable or not.

Save the Children notes: “The issue however, gets mired in controversy and confusion when prostitution too is considered as a violation of the basic human rights of both adult women and minors and equal to sexual exploitation per se. From this standpoint then, trafficking and prostitution become conflated with each other.”

While the international sex industry is a $20+ billion a year business, according to the Economist.com, is Zimbabwe ready for this?

Possibly the next step for Zimbabwe is to legalise sex work because in countries where it is regulated, the prostitutes are registered, organise trade unions, are covered by workers’ protection laws, their proceeds are taxable, and they are required to undergo regular health checks routinely screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

In some countries where prostitution is legal and regulated there is a specific law, which explicitly allows the practice of prostitution if certain conditions are met. In these countries it is usual for the practice to be restricted to particular areas.

In other countries where prostitution itself is legal, but associated activities are outlawed, it is generally not regulated. In other countries, there is no specific law prohibiting the exchange of sex for money, but in general most have laws against soliciting in a public place, making it difficult to engage in prostitution without breaking any law.

In countries like India, though prostitution is legal, it is illegal when committed in a hotel!

I believe such approaches are taken with the stance that prostitution is impossible to eliminate, and thus these societies have chosen to regulate it in an attempt to reduce the more undesirable consequences.

Zimbabweans have for long resented legalising prostitution as others firmly believe that there is strong co-occurrence between prostitution, drug use, drug selling, and involvement in non-drug crimes, particularly property crime.  

But by keeping prostitution illegal it means there are no laws to govern how the work is performed.

  Law and politics
Prostitution is addressed in the Criminal Law (Codification and reform) Act 2004. Part 111 sexual crimes and crimes against morality.

In section 61, prostitute and prostitution are defined as follows: “prostitute” means a male or female person who for money or reward — allows other persons to have anal or extra-marital sexual intercourse or engage in other sexual conduct with him or her; or

(b) solicits other persons to have anal or extra-marital sexual intercourse or engage in other sexual conduct with him or her; and the word “prostitution” shall be construed accordingly; other relevant sections are includes under Division E: Crimes relating to prostitution or the facilitation of sexual crimes.

 Soliciting
(1) In this section “publicly solicits” means— (a) solicits in a public place or any place to which the public or any section of the public have access; or

(b) solicits by publication of the solicitation in any printed or electronic medium for reception by the public.
(2) Any person who publicly solicits another person for the purposes of prostitution shall be guilty of soliciting and liable to a fine not exceeding level five or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both.;

82 Living off or facilitating prostitution.
Any person who— (a) keeps a brothel; or (b) demands from a prostitute any payment or reward in consideration of the person — (i) keeping, managing or assisting in the keeping of a brothel in which the prostitute is, or has been, living for immoral purposes; or (ii) having solicited other persons for immoral purposes on behalf of the prostitute; or

(iii) having effected the prostitute’s entry into a brothel for the purpose of prostitution; or (iv) having brought or assisted in bringing the prostitute into Zimbabwe for immoral purposes; or
(c) demands from a prostitute any payment or reward in consideration for any present or past immoral connection with the prostitute; shall be guilty of living off or facilitating prostitution and liable to a fine not exceeding level seven or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or both.

83 Procuring
Any person who procures any other person— (a) for the purposes of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with another person or with persons generally, whether inside or outside Zimbabwe; or  (b) to become a prostitute, whether inside or outside Zimbabwe; or (c) to leave Zimbabwe with the intent that the other person may become a prostitute; or  (d) to leave his or her usual place of residence, not being a brothel, with the intent that he or she may become an inmate of or frequent a brothel elsewhere; shall be guilty of procuring and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level fourteen or— (i) in a case where the person procured is a young person, imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years, or both such fine and imprisonment; (ii) in any other case, imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, or both such fine and imprisonment.

87 Allowing child to become a prostitute
Any parent or guardian who causes or allows his or her child under the age of eighteen years to associate with prostitutes or to be employed by any prostitute as a prostitute or to reside in a brothel shall be guilty of allowing a child to become a prostitute and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years or both.—Maxwell Sibanda

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