NSWP denounces the harassment, arrests and detention of sex workers as part of the recently launched ‘Ujana’ programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On 21st September, the Governor of Kinshasa announced the start of a large operation against clothing and behaviour deemed to be “offensive to morality”, which has led to the harassment, arrest and detention of hundreds of sex workers in the area. The initiative is designed to tackle ‘ujana’ - a phenomenon described as ‘juvenile delinquency close to prostitution’ – and gives powers to police to shut down bars allowing entry to under 18s, and arrest women deemed to be dressed inappropriately.
The Congolese Alliance for Human Rights Projects of Sex Work, ACODHU-TS, member of ASWA and NSWP, has condemned the initiative, and is seeking support from international organisations.
UCODHU-TS reports that around 500 sex workers have been arrested, and have recorded more than 300 instances of extortion and intimidation of sex workers by police since the initiative was introduced. They estimate around 80% of all those arrested are sex workers.
ACODHU-TS is extremely concerned about the conditions in which sex workers are being held, and their access to legal representation after arrest. They are also extremely concerned about the ongoing risk this initiative poses to sex workers, including local reports of a sharp increase in violence from clients taking advantage of sex workers’ need to work in more hidden ways to avoid arrest. They have received reports that police in other districts are beginning to replicate the project in other districts beyond Kishasa, widening the risk of harm to sex workers in South Kivu and North Kivu.
UCODHU-TS is seeking to meet with the political and administrative offices within the Kinshasa government to seek solutions to the problems faced by sex workers.
NSWP members around the world are united in demanding the following actions be taken to ensure that the human rights of sex workers are protected and respected:
- An end to the criminalisation and legal oppression of sex workers, clients, and third parties;
- Equal protection and treatment by law enforcement and justice systems;
- An end to condoms being used as evidence of sex work;
- Equal access to rights-based health and social services for sex workers, including sexual and reproductive health.
For more information about the demands of sex workers, please read the NSWP Consensus Statement.