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2024 elections — where the major political parties stand on legality of sex work

2024 elections — where the major political parties stand on legality of sex work
Activists from the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) at a march for sex workers’ rights in September 2021. (Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

We sent questions to the ANC, DA, EFF, IFP, FF Plus, ActionSA, PA, MK Party and Rise Mzansi.

Today’s question to the major political parties deals with sex work.

We asked the ANC, DA, EFF, IFP, FF Plus, ActionSA, PA, MK Party, and Rise Mzansi on 13 March and sent follow-up queries to those who did not respond. Some have still not responded.

Answers are very lightly edited for grammar and typos.

What is your party’s position on the decriminalisation of sex work for:

  • Sex workers?
  • The clients of sex workers?

ANC: The ANC did not respond to our questions

DA: The DA will decriminalise sex work. The full decriminalisation of sex work refers to the decriminalisation of workers and businesses selling sexual services and clients purchasing sexual services. This differs from the Swedish model as the model decriminalises sex work; however, the purchasing of sexual services remains illegal.

The legal implication would, therefore, apply only to the clients of sex workers. The problem with this model is that it impedes sex workers’ right to economic activity.

Furthermore, the DA will expunge criminal records related to sex work.

In order to address the concerns of consent and human trafficking, the DA proposes the establishment of a Sex Worker Licensing Authority. The Sex Worker Licensing Authority would be responsible for:

  • licensing of sex worker brothels;
  • establishing brothel licensing eligibility criteria;
  • establishment of Sex Work Norms and Standards, which would include compulsory health safety and standards; and
  • compliance monitoring and inspections of registered businesses in the profession.

Despite the decriminalisation of sex work, street prostitution and unlicensed brothels would remain illegal.

EFF: The EFF did not respond to our questions.

IFP: While not supporting sex work as a form of formal employment, the IFP believes that everyone has a right to safety, dignity and healthcare. The heightened risks faced by sex workers of violence, exploitation and sexually transmitted infections must be mitigated by dismantling the barriers to health care and legal services. Sex workers must be able to report crimes with the expectation of fair treatment from the police. This will require education programmes, and focussing on the universality of human rights as enshrined in our Constitution.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Sex workers and moral stigmatisation — where criminal law has no place

FF Plus: The FF Plus said they were against the decriminalisation of sex work, whether for sex workers or their clients.

ActionSA: Sex workers: ActionSA will decriminalise and regulate the provision of sex work.

The clients of sex workers: ActionSA will maintain the illegality of solicitation.

PA: We accept the abundant evidence that criminalising sex workers only makes these individuals (mostly women) even more vulnerable to abuse and rape, including from police officers themselves. Sex work should be regulated, taxed and made safer, since currently the industry is highly prevalent but is controlled by criminal syndicates. Ironically, this makes it more vulnerable to human trafficking, which is what the criminalisation was ostensibly meant to combat. A curious point about all this is that the legal clauses on sex work are all that remain of the apartheid-era Immorality Act. We would be better off getting rid of that set of laws completely.

The clients of sex workers? There is no point to these laws, as long as what is happening is genuinely consensual.

MK Party: The MK Party did not respond to our questions.

Rise Mzansi: Rise Mzansi supports the legalisation of sex work based on our constitutional and political values of freedom and protecting the human rights and respecting the dignity of all people. Criminalising sex work inevitably leads to sex workers being less able to avoid contracting and more likely to transmit HIV/Aids, not enjoying the protection of the law when assaulted and victimised. It deepens societal stigma against them, and makes them vulnerable to exploitation, assault, rape and even murder.

It also violates their right to have full freedom and autonomy over their bodies. We therefore believe sex work should be legalised and regulated, with emphasis placed on reducing the harms associated with sex work in partnership with the industry, rather than criminalising sex workers.

Rise Mzansi would continue to criminalise and prosecute any form of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. DM

First published by GroundUp.


Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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