Thu, 11 Nov 2010 Feature Article

The Debate of legalizing prostitution

The Debate of legalizing prostitution

Sex is not illegal, neither is payment, so why should a combination of the two be? Prostitution is the oldest profession, so let us legalize it. These are some of the points often raised by the proponents of the call for legalizing sex trade. Others at the other side of the debate have made points like prostitution leads to the deepening of bad morals; it is a sin and should remain illegal, etc.

I do not want to make a one-sided argument for or against this call so let me attempt to do a fair and dispassionate exposition by looking at the two sides of the coin. Prostitution is illegal in most countries especially African countries. Just recently during the world cup in Africa, there have been calls for prostitution to be legalized and regularized in order to help control HIV AIDS and STIs and also for the protection of the sex workers. This generated a lot of debate on our airwaves with diverse opinions expressed for and against the call.

If legalizing prostitution would lead to the reduction and eventually the complete eradication of HIV/AIDS then why don't we all go for it? Why do people argue against it?

Some learned people have said that legalizing the sex trade would make it possible for those engaged in it to be registered and properly monitored. This would make it easy for them to seek medical treatment. They say it would even make it possible for them to be screened periodically and registered, ensuring that those engaged in the trade are not infected, thereby putting the infection rate under check.

This sounds good, but what then happens to those found to be infected? Would they be prevented from practicing their "legal" trade? Currently it is illegal to deny someone employment because of his or her HIV status, so if the sex trade becomes legal, would it not be equally illegal to deny an individual the right to employment?

Would the screening of the prostitutes ensure that their clients be equally virus free? Would there be a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the screened prostitutes protect themselves by the use of condoms? This seems practically impossible, but assuming that this is made possible, would it not amount to infringing on the rights of the client since he might prefer going without protection?

Another school of thought says legalizing prostitution would ensure that they pay tax, hence it would be a source of revenue generation for the country. Wow! Considering the amount of money prostitutes make in a day, the country stands to gain a lot in the form of taxes.

Looking at the other side of the coin brings further questions to mind. Tax to the best of my knowledge is a percentage of one's income, so how do we ensure that prostitutes do not evade tax? Would there be a policy for flat rates since we all know that different prostitutes charge different rates for their services? Would it be possible to create a mechanism to determine the number of clients a prostitute gets in a day? Your guess is as good as mine.

Those who say prostitution is a sin and so should be made illegal should remember that Ghana is a circular state and religious concepts should not be made to bind everybody. This is one of the arguments raised by those who support the legalization. I totally agree that the religious groups have failed in inculcating in the citizenry a spirit of decency and morality which would have prevented the occurrence of deviants in society. But does the fact that religion has not been able to wipe out immorality mean that we legalize immorality?

Legalizing prostitution would reduce unemployment as it would serve as a source of employment for those engaged in it. Prostitution does not require any specialized training, so my question is: If legalization would lead to job creation, are we then not encouraging laziness among our women as they would not need any training to be able to be employed? How do we expect our female students to take their studies serious when they know that they can engage in a well-paid job whether they pass their examinations or not since all it takes is to be a woman?

Prostitution is illegal, but who is a prostitute? Does giving sex for money or a favor make one a prostitute? If yes, do we then say that most women are prostitutes? Does dressing in skimpy clothes and standing on the street make one a prostitute?

Prostitutes are most often arrested without their clients (males) but it takes two to practice the trade. Doesn't it? Does this amount to female chauvinism? The most common evidence used against these alleged prostitutes is the possession of condoms, but does this help in the fight against HIV/AIDS? Is it illegal for a woman to have condoms in her bag?

Those responsible for enforcing the laws--politicians, police, and the military--have been accused of patronizing the trade. Ladies of all classes--illiterates and literates, including university students--have also been accused of practicing this trade.

Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. In my opinion, it has come to stay just as armed robbery, stealing and poverty cannot be completely eradicated in our society. So long as there exists differences in human behavior, traits, and characteristics, there will continue to be deviants. Do you think the solution is in legalizing deviant behavior?

The debate continues…
(The writer is the Northern Coordinator for Youth Network for Human Rights and Democracy You-Net and currently studying at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University for Development Studies Tamale).