The Case for Decriminalization of Sex Work in South Africa

33 Pages Posted: 11 May 2017

See all articles by Chi Mgbako

Chi Mgbako

Fordham University School of Law

Katherine Bass

Independent

Erin Bundra

Independent

Mehak Jamil

Independent

Jere Keys

Independent

Lauren Melkus

Independent

Date Written: May 10, 2017

Abstract

Activists for sex worker rights in South Africa are leading a sophisticated national campaign to decriminalize sex work.1 This Article serves as an act of solidarity with these activists’ continued efforts to fight for and realize sex workers’ human rights by examining the negative impact that criminalizing prostitution has on sex workers’ rights and presenting evidence-based arguments to show that South Africa should enact legislation to fully decriminalize sex work. South African sex workers’ real-life experiences with violence, police abuse, and lack of access to health care and the justice system, highlighted through interviews conducted by the authors during fieldwork in South Africa in November 2011, are included in this Article as testimony to the human rights violations caused by the criminalization of sex work.

Part I demonstrates how the legal frameworks of criminalization, partial criminalization, and legalization and regulation of sex work are costly, ineffective, and harmful approaches to sex work.

Part II presents evidence from New Zealand, the only country to fully decriminalize sex work, to show the positive impact decriminalization has had on the lives and rights of sex workers.

The experience of New Zealand suggests that making sex work legal through decriminalization has a positive impact on violence against sex workers, does not result in an increase in trafficking into forced prostitution or youth in the sex trade, and has no influence on the level of demand for sex work.

Part III advocates for the decriminalization of sex work in South Africa as the only legal regime that will uphold sex workers’ rights. Finally, Part IV demonstrates how decriminalizing sex work will fulfill South Africa’s constitutional and human rights commitments by promoting sex workers’ rights to free choice of work, association, access to health care, security of the person, and human dignity.

Suggested Citation

Mgbako, Chi and Bass, Katherine and Bundra, Erin and Jamil, Mehak and Keys, Jere and Melkus, Lauren, The Case for Decriminalization of Sex Work in South Africa (May 10, 2017). Georgetown Journal of International Law, Vol. 44, No. 1423, 2017; Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2966308. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2966308

Chi Mgbako (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

Katherine Bass

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

Erin Bundra

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

Mehak Jamil

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

Jere Keys

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

Lauren Melkus

Independent ( email )

No Address Available
United States

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