New UN report on Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific

Source (institute/publication): 
  • Criminalisation of sex work increases vulnerability to HIV by fuelling stigma and discrimination, limits access to sexual health services and condoms.
  • Removing legal penalties for sex work allows HIV prevention and treatment programmes to reach sex workers and their clients more effectively.
  • There is no evidence that decriminalisation has increased sex work. 

These are some of the findings in an unprecedented study issued today by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Sex Work and the Law examines 48 countries in Asia and the Pacific to assess laws, legal policies and law enforcement practices that affect the human rights of sex workers and impact on the effectiveness of HIV responses.

Where sex work has been decriminalised, there is a greater chance for safer sex practices through occupational health and safety standards across the industry.

“There is no evidence from countries of Asia and the Pacific that criminalisation of sex work has prevented HIV epidemics among sex workers and their clients,” In fact, the report states that “evidence from the jurisdictions in the region that have decriminalised sex work – New Zealand and New South Wales (Australia) – indicates that the approach of defining sex work as legitimate labour empowers sex workers, increases their access to HIV and sexual health services and is associated with very high condom use rates.”

“Following on the report on the Global Commission on HIV & the Law, this report illustrates the importance of having the right policies and laws in place so that sex workers’ rights are protected, and they are not discriminated against in HIV and health services,” says Rathin Roy, UNDP Asia-Pacific Regional Centre Manager.

The report also highlights how significant advances in recognition of the rights of sex workers can occur even in contexts where the sex industry is illegal.  For example, education of police and empowerment of sex workers has helped to reduce human rights violations in India and Thailand, and health authorities in many countries now actively support sex worker organizations to deliver HIV prevention programmes to their peers.

“At regional and global levels, countries have pledged to revise and remove laws, policies and practices that block the HIV response. This report will be a vital resource to inform national reviews on such laws and practices to be carried out the next two years towards the ultimate vision of ending AIDS,” said Steven J. Kraus, Director, UNAIDS Asia and the Pacific.    

You can read the full report here.  (Note this is a large pdf document of 226 pages and file size of 11Mb)

You can read the full press release from UNDP/UNFPA/UNAIDS here.