World Cup 2010 and the Legalisation of Sex Work: Postulations and Expostulations

Published on Sangonet.org, by Daniel Agbiboa, 21 April, 2010. – Linked on our blogs with Southern African NGO Network SANGOnet.

With up to half a million football aficionados and tourists expected to visit South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, and up to half of South Africa’s sex workers carrying the HIV virus, there have been calls for the country to decriminalise sex work to help tackle the spread of HIV. But is this a warranted call? Can the World Cup ever be a justification for the legalisation of sex work? This CAI brief explores the rationale that underscores the proposal of legalising sex work during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It also takes into account some counter arguments apropos of the legalisation of the sex trade.

Proposals to Legalise Sex Work: … // 

… Concerns over Trafficking:

Debbi Toughey, a former prostitute now working for the public health charity, Doctors for Life, believes that past experience shows that toleration of sex work will act as a magnet for traffickers. She further opines that the legalisation of sex work opens up a ‘can of worms’ which could 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 (HSRC) believes that legalisation or toleration may be the best way to prevent trafficking before the World Cup kicks-off 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 giving sex workers the carte blanch to operate, Reddy believes it will become harder to force the victims of trafficking into sex work as greater government regulation of the industry will make it harder to hide away evidence of trafficking from the authorities. Be that as it may, given Selebi’s belief that there would not be enough officers to police sex work and public alcohol consumption during the tournament, the ability of the government to oversee a regulated sex work industry during the World Cup seems improbable.

The issue of human trafficking and abuse cannot be ignored or explained away as football fans across the globe flock to the “rainbow nation” (11) for the football spectacle and all the other accessories that go with the game. Sex would seem to be as big a part of many fans’ experience as watching the matches itself. Legalising sex work may make fans safer, but South Africa realises that its country’s long-term identity will not be defined solely by 2010, and needs to carefully weigh the detriments compared to the benefits of such a drastic policy shift that may spell disaster for the country in the long run, if the country is not ready for it. South Africa then has duties both as the World Cup host, but also as – and to – its country.

NOTES 1 to 11: … (full text).

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