*Former president says the church way does not work
*Calls for distribution of condoms inside prisons
Former president Festus Mogae is spearheading efforts to have condoms distributed inside prisons and sex work and homosexuality decriminalised, Mmegi has established.
Speaking at the third and last meeting of the National Aids Council (NAC) for this year in Gaborone yesterday, Mogae, who is the head of the Aids organisation, said even though sex work was frowned upon, the reality was that it is a social problem that is here and should be dealt with.
These recommendations are to be presented to Cabinet and Parliament with the aim of influencing legislation.Mogae said decriminalising sex work was simply being humane to those who had been forced into the 'vice' by protecting them and regulating the industry.
The former president said sex work did not "in any way" violate human rights - which should not be confused with social norms - and that decriminalising sex work did not mean encouraging it. Rather, it should be seen as allowing for policies and prevention measures to be put in place.
In Mogae's view, police officers have better things to do than to chase people engaging in a consensual transaction. Afterall, he added, prostitution is a service in demand even though it has always been frowned upon. Speaking from the floor, a man said the best way of dealing with "the oldest profession" was to decriminalise it so that regulatory measures may be put in place. Sex workers would need to be protected from both employers and clients, he said.
A woman, who has reportedly interacted with members of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), said she now appreciated the abuse sex workers had to go through. "They told me that they are even abused by policemen who identify them (sex workers) by searching their bags for condoms," the woman said. "If they find condoms in the bags, they charge them with public nuisance and then demand money or sex."
Another woman who was in a delegation that recently went to Thailand to benchmark on dealing with sex work said though the profession was widely tolerated and regulated in the Asian country, abuse was still rife.
"Protection and regulation would need to be implemented (closely)," she said. "We learnt that even employers abuse workers by calling them back from their homes for clients who also abuse them." The woman said Thai police interfered with prevention measures to the point where the women were now scared to carry condoms, lest they were arrested because contrary to popular belief around the world, prostitution was still illegal in the Asian country.
"Those young women felt that they would be much safer if sex work was decriminalised because they would be able to report abusive officers and clients," she said. The Assistant Minister of Local Government, Botlhogile Tshireletso, added her weight to Mogae's call to decriminalise sex work. She said sex workers were not only those who paraded themselves on the street; there were sex workers in bedrooms and offices as well.
"Sex workers are not only those we call 'ladies of the night,'" Tshireletso said. "I have male friends who tell me where they buy. So let's decriminalise sex work to protect these people who get cheated because they do not have anywhere to go for help." But it was not everyone present who agreed with the Mogae formula. One such delegate said he would prefer it if the council focused mainly on factors leading to prostitution, instead of decriminalising sex work.
Another said it was a sad day when Botswana was benchmarking with a country notable for sex work instead of instilling Christian values in citizens. The country should be benchmarking with other Christian countries for the best way of handling the issue, the woman said.
Ever irrepressible, Mogae said even countries where religion was the way of life had failed. "The church way does not work," the former president said. "Italy is a Catholic country well known for prostitution. There is divorce among Muslims, though they have very strict rules. So we cannot talk about the church way because it has failed in history."
At any rate, Mogae said, it should be understood that the benchmarking in Thailand was done to learn how best sex work could be handled; not to approve it.
Decriminalisation of homosexuality received the same spirited debate. NAC's position was that while homosexuality was not a socially accepted practice, it could not be ignored. Mogae said it was ignorance and wilful deceit for anyone to think there was no homosexuality. Regarding condoms in prisons, the former president said as long as there was proof that people went to prison HIV negative and came out positive, something should be done. More importantly, it had been proven that prisons were sources of new infections. "Condoms in prisons are necessary purely for prevention purposes," Mogae said.