SEX WORKERS ARE PEOPLE TOO!

Sex workers deserve the basic respect and protection from violence that each nation owes its citizens. Sex work is not illegal in Malawi however most Malawians look at sex workers as being less human than any other human being because of their work. It should be noted that most of these Sex Workers are involved in sex work because of poverty amongst other reasons. Some Sex workers indulge in Sex work for reasons other than poverty nevertheless that does not grant authorization to abuse them, take advantage of who or what they are or discriminate them. Law enforcers are employed to enforce the law but in most cases Law enforcers (police officers) seem to be on top of the list when it comes to abusing sex workers.

The police conduct sweeping exercises at night, as a crime prevention strategy. During these exercises, police arrest sex workers on charges of being idle and disorderly or rogue and vagabonds. What is very sad is that these sex workers are not only arrested, the law enforcers usually demand a sum of money from them if they want to be released right there and then, mostly this demanded sum is in the ranges of mk8,000- mk10,000 (10USD – 13 USD) According to testimonies of sex workers. If they do not have this demanded sum, the other option they are given is that these they should “save themselves” from the hands of the law enforcers. This basically means they should sleep with them in order to be set free. The police go as far as arresting people in rest houses and other private places for the offence of rogue and vagabond. The question is how can someone be arrested for the offence of rogue in a private place like a rest house?? What is even more concerning is that the police use force to break into these restrooms and when they break into these rest rooms, they only arrest the sex workers and not their male clients. This in itself shows that the point is not to arrest sex workers for being rogue and vagabond only but rather arresting sex workers because of their work.

At times when sex workers are arrested they are charged with the offence of Living on the earnings of prostitution contrary to section 146 of the Penal Code. Section 146 of the Penal Code Provides that “Every woman who knowingly lives knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution, or who is proved to have, for the purpose of gain, exercised control, direction or influence over the movements of a prostitute in such a manner as to show that she is aiding or compelling her prostitution with any person, or generally, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor”.The charge in itself is wrong as in law living on the earnings of prostitution does not target the prostitute herself but rather the person she is working for.

In some occurrences when the police carry out street cleaning exercises for security purposes at night and among the arrested are sex workers. The police take advantage of the fact that they are sex workers and gang rape them or sometimes sleep with them with no pay for the reason that they are sex workers and to the gang rapers it’s not a big deal to rape them because they don’t deserve any respect after all its their work to provide sexual services to those who need it. Not all police officers abuse sex workers but a certain proportion of them abuse sex workers. Sex work is not illegal in Malawi and sex workers are equally human for this reason they should not be taken advantage of or treated less human.

HUMAN RIGHTS AND ISSUES OF BAIL IN MALAWI

Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) the only charitable organization working within the Criminal Justice System in Malawi, is running a number of programmes like Health in Prisons, Campaigning for Decriminalization of Vagrancy Laws, Protecting Sex workers from Police Abuse and the Malawi Bail Project which is now running in some courts and police stations across Blantyre and Southern Malawi. Through the Malawi Bail Project, CHREAA is working hard to make sure that all citizens who are in conflict with the law are informed of their right to be released on bail. This project aims to sensitize the accused who cannot afford to pay for the private lawyer and inform them how and when to apply for bail at police or at court. The project is also reducing severe, congestion in our prisons, our prisons are desperately overcrowded sending someone to prison for petty issues like Rogue and Vagabond, Idle and disorderly, or Illegal Vending is tantamount to violation of their human rights, subjecting them to degrading treatment whilst on remand and therefore innocent until proven guilty by a court of Law.  Remember, prisoners are our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, uncles, cousins and friends. Know that they are part of our Society and they deserve Human dignity.”

From: Boxten T. Kudziwe
(Paralegal CHREAA)