Forty-four Ugandan sex workers were arrested on 14 July, 2017 in Abayita, at a crisis meeting organised in response to a series of brutal murders in the Abayita, Katabi, Nkumba and Nansana areas of Uganda. A report by the Uganda Minister of Internal Affairs indicates that at least 21 women were found brutally murdered between 3 May and 4 September of this year. Many of these women were raped before being killed and had sticks inserted into their genitals. The victims were usually dumped in deserted locations close to their places of residence. Inspector General of the Uganda Police Force Kale Kayihura has reported that the majority of the victims were sex workers.
Regional updates: Africa
The Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), an organisation that provides health services to sex workers in Zimbabwe filed an application at the Bulawayo High Court. They were seeking an order to compel Home Affairs minister Igantius Chombo to stop interfering with the sex workers' awareness march. The march was meant to raise awareness around increasing violence against sex workers in Zimbabwe. The application was dismissed by the courts on 6 July 2017. The march was meant to occur in December 2015, but still remains banned.
Sex work is illegal in South Africa. Sex work is criminalised in the Criminal Code, and municipal by-laws also contain provisions that prohibit sex work such as “importuning any person for the purpose of prostitution” and “soliciting”. Sex workers have very little legal protection.
Recently, the Tanzanian government arrested 500 suspected sex workers alongside an estimated 300 alleged clients in a police sweep that took place in March 2017. In the months of March and June 2016, sex worker communities experienced major arrests and harassment. 1,168 sex workers in various hotspots in Tanzania were imprisoned by the state.
Sex workers in Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa have urged the police to conduct a thorough investigation into the murder of one of their colleagues in a hotel last month. During a peaceful demonstration in protest to the growing number of killings of sex workers in the area, the sex workers urged the police to act swiftly.
Penzi, who is a paralegal with “Sisters of Majengo,” a community-based organisation that promotes health and human rights for female sex workers through advocacy, trainings on sexual reproductive health and rights, economic empowerment and community outreach in Majengo, lives in an urban settlement in Kenya and has been in the business for 24 years as an indoor sex worker.
On 28 December 2016, 39 sex workers were arrested under the Rogue and Vagabond offence in the Malawian criminal code. This offence is often used to target street-based sex workers, drug users, vendors, and homeless people.
Section 184(1) (c) of the Penal Code provides that, “every person found in or upon or near any premises of any road or highway or any place adjacent thereto or in any public place at such time and under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such person is there for an illegal or disorderly purpose, is deemed a rogue and vagabond.”
On the 18 November SWEAT and Sisonke with the Gauteng Sex Worker Sector and the Gauteng Provincial Legislature held the Sex Worker's Sector Parliament. Four hundred and fifty sex workers participated in the Sex Workers’ Parliament in the province of Gauteng in northern South Africa.
On 24 February 2016, 19 women in the Dedza District of Malawi were arrested and fined. They were charged with living off the avails of prostitution. On 8 September 2016, the Zomba High Court ruled that the Dedza Magistrate had no jurisdiction to hear the case and that the arrest of the women was unconstitutional. According to the court, the law was meant to protect sex workers against exploitation. However, the law was being used to arrest, detain, and fine sex workers and this violated their human rights.
In Uganda, commercial sex work is illegal and perceived as immoral and socially unacceptable. As a stigmatised and often criminalised group, sex workers are frequently the victims of human rights abuses, including sexual violence. Historically, the majority of sex workers have lacked adequate access to information about their rights, safe sex, health services, and equality before the law. In turn, this has significant implications for basic safety, the spread of HIV/AIDs, and unwanted pregnancies.