It is a topic that many have dodged for years, a topic that many avoid for fear of labeling and victimization by conservatives within society – “legalizing sex work”.
According to Open Society Foundations’ 2015 report – Sex work is criminalized not only through prohibitions on selling sexual services but also through laws that prohibit the solicitation of sex, living off the earnings of sex work or the purchase of sexual services.
It says by reducing the freedom of sex workers to negotiate condom use with clients, organize for fair treatment, and publicly advocate for their rights, criminalization and aggressive policing have been shown to increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, extortion, and health risks.
In Zvishavane, Chiredzi and Shurugwi sex workers say victimization is a regular occurrence, be it a client that ends up refusing to pay or forcing himself onto the victim or a police officer demanding free services for one to avoid arrest.
Sex workers from different environs in Zimbabwe that spoke to Amakhosikazi Media said they “are victimized by law enforcement at times and because our work is not legal we have nowhere to turn to. We have to bribe or offer free services just to be safe.”
“Legalizing our work would allow us to work properly and pay taxes like in other informal traders” they added
They also highlighted that “Legalizing will also help us access health services without fear of harassment”
They indicated that their “work has to be legalized as we are breadwinners just like everyone and we do not commit any crime when we work, we need to work for our children”
Sex workers are on the periphery of social and economic life in many countries. Increasingly, even governments look down upon them as subjects unworthy of benefits or legal protection. To get a better understanding of what Zimbabwean law actually says with regards to sex work I spoke to Zvishavane based legal practitioner Advocate Tichaona Chivasa.
He indicated that “According to sections 81-87 of the criminal law codification and reform act soliciting becomes an offence when does it in public for example on the roadside, online or through print media.”
Turning to sentencing he indicated that “alleged sex workers and alleged clients can be sentenced to payment of a fine to imprisonments of up to 2 years” he advised members of the public to be acquainted with these laws.
The law is however not cast in stone and like everything in life it can be changed for the betterment of humankind.
However changes may be very difficult on this front as traditional leaders, the custodians of African culture say they would not be in support, Chief Masunda of Zvishavane said “culture does not condone such activities, we see such as a threat to the marriage institution and legalizing sex work is not something we would want to entertain.’”
He added that “it would be better to promote polygamous marriages than to legalize sex work which is considered immoral by our culture”
The World Population Review estimates that there are close to 42 million sex workers around the world. And in 2021 65 countries are known to have legalized sex work making it legal or limitedly legal these include – Senegal, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Venezuela and Kenya.