Sex workers in Ghana and Botswana facing an upsurge of police harrassment

Media reports from several African countries indicate that sex workers are being unfairly targeted by authorities causing concern to sex workers rights activists across the region.

Reports from Ghana and Botswana show that police have been arresting sex workers and in some instances deporting some of them.

According to a report in the Accra City Times, police arrested 23 sex workers at Vienna city, a popular spot in the Sekondi-Takoradi-Metropolis. It is further reported that police said those arrested ‘served as informants to criminals.’ In a further disregard to ethics, Ghanaian media exposed the identities of the sex workers who were arrested in the swoop by publishing the names and ages of the women.

Meanwhile, Botswana police have equally been arresting – and in some instances, deporting – sex workers from the southern Africa nation. In an exercise conducted by police early November, over 30 sex workers were arrested in what has been termed as ‘a campaign to curb the influx of sex workers and gays’ in Botswana.

It is also reported that the country has ‘embarked on a campaign targeting sex workers who will either be detained if they are locals or deported if they are foreigners for their “disorderly and indecent” behaviour.’
According to Botswana police, the crackdown,scheduled to run for the next six months, is a bid to target ‘emerging crime trends.’ Several of the foreign sex workers arrested in the swoop were reportedly handed over to the Department of Immigration for verification of their identity documents.

Apart from such raids and arrests, Botswana’s Health Ministry also unveiled plans to undertake massive media campaigns and awareness against sex work.

The ministry will put out messages against sex work billboards in strategic areas and on branded vehicles. Further, newspaper adverts, articles, posters, flyers, radio and television adverts on sexually transmitted infections and dangers of sex work will also be used.

Human rights group Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) denounced the crackdown on gay men and sex workers, saying they were duped by the government to conduct a survey on sex workers and men who have sex with men.

In a statement, BONELA said “We accordingly collaborated with nested organisations and mobilised our members in the sex work and men who have sex with other men community to take part in the survey in the belief that the government will use the findings to create an inclusive and accommodative environment.

“The Botswana government has now done what is totally unexpected and deviated from the study findings by taking punitive, discriminatory, homophobic and xenophobic measures,” said Bonela.