Tanzanian Sex Workers and Clients Face Mass Arrest and Criminalisation

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Regional Correspondent Africa

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.

Female, male and transgender sex workers in Tanzania face many challenges including criminalisation, discrimination and stigma. The stigma associated with sex work leads to discrimination and rights violations in most aspects of their day-to-day lives.

The alarming situation started in 2016 after the government developed some of the most progressive HIV response documents, which recognise the importance of programming for key affected populations in the context of the local epidemic.

“The Third National Strategic Framework that contains specific services aim to reach MSM, FSW, WSW and PWIUD,” said Clemence Devis Clara, TACEF Executive Director, and spokesperson for Tanzania Sex Worker Alliance (TASWA).

A successful application to the Global Fund New Funding Model accompanied with support from PEPFAR and other partners has laid ground for a response that is inclusive and seeks to address the HIV prevention and treatment needs of key affected populations.

‘‘It is very true that lately, there have been several arrests of sex workers in Tanzania due to different issues raised recently with politicians sentiments propelling these arrests. As of now, there are no comprehensive reports of how many sex workers have been arrested due to lack of documentation strategy in place to capture all these,” said Clemence.

“The only reported incident was of 17 sex workers who were arrested and jailed in Morogoro for two years  as  I documented the first report and submitted it to Emergency Response Committee that worked tirelessly and ensured that the Court of Appeal in the District squashed the case and set the sex workers free,” said Lulu Nyenzi, Advocacy Officer, CHESA.

In early July 2016, the Minister of Health, Social Development, Children and Elderly, announced an end to the public distribution of lubricants. According to a report in The Independent, Ummy Mwalimu, the Health Minister said, "it is true that the government has banned the importation and use of the jelly to curb the spread of HIV."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) previously accused the police of human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in Tanzania, and of sexually assaulting people. In 2013, researchers found that sex workers, sexual minorities and drug users were often arrested and detained for days on end, beaten and raped by the police.

On 14 December 2016 at 1 p.m., three Kenyans and four Tanzanians were arrested, including Hamil Suleiman from ZAYEA Zanzibar, Clemence Devis (Clara) from TACEF Dar es salaam, Ally Semsela from WASO and Maurance Chuwa from TMT Dar es salaam. There was no clear reason for their arrest. The arrest happened at Protea Hotel in Dar es Salaam where there was a meeting for creating a Key Population coalition that was co-hosted by TACEF.

“ASWA is not pleased with the current situation in Tanzania and the arrests of sex workers made by the police for reportedly being involved in sex work. ASWA envisions a world where sex work is regarded as work in Africa, and where the health and human rights of all sex workers living and working in Africa are protected. Therefore, it is not right for the Tanzanian government to resort to criminalising sex work,” said Daughtie Ogutu, the Executive Director of ASWA.

“Though we are looking for support to start the early preparation on submission to CEDAW which Tanzania will review next year, we are looking forward to document and report issues of sex workers, transgender people, lesbians and minority populations. But more over to make sure that their issues are included in the general women report at national level with the same issues to table them at African Commission and SADDC on Human Rights Commission and Parliamentary Committee,” said John Kashiha, Programme Person at CHESA.