A recent United Nations report has recommended decriminalizing prostitution to help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, unlike reproductive health, another UN advocacy, legalizing prostitution has united leaders in government, the Church, and civil society in opposing the idea. According to “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” from the United Nations Development Program’s Asia-Pacific Regional Center, positive public health and human rights outcomes have been achieved in jurisdictions that have decriminalized sex work. States should move away from criminalizing sex work or activities associated with it,” the study argues, referring to criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other related activities. Examining laws affecting rights of sex workers and HIV responses of 48 countries in the region, the report finds that “criminalization increases vulnerability to HIV by fueling stigma and discrimination, limits access to sexual health services and condoms. ”
Moreover, it says that “criminalization legitimizes violence and discrimination against sex workers (particularly from law enforcement authorities and health-care providers). Criminalization makes sex workers reluctant to report abuses and makes authorities reluctant to offer protection or support to sex workers. ” Decriminalization would enable sex workers to organize within their communities and register their organizations, obtain identification documents so that they can fully access services and entitlements, engage in advocacy and respond to the health and safety needs of their peers. The legal recognition of sex work as an occupation also enables sex workers to claim benefits, to form unions and to access work-related banking, insurance, transport and pension schemes.
” The report notes that except for New Zealand and the state of New South Wales in Australia, all countries in Asia and the Pacific criminalize sex work or certain activities related to sex work. Opposition of different quarters The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), in an Oct. 1 statement, reiterated that it is against the legalization of prostitution, which it called “an exploitative system that commodifies and dehumanizes women, men and children who are being victimized within the system. ” The PCW is the government’s primary policy-making and coordinating body for concerns related to women empowerment and gender equality. Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luz Ilagan says legalization of prostitution will not ensure the protection of Filipinos forced into it.
Instead, it will “give pimps, owners of prostitution dens and their customers the leverage to further exploit women as well as children and minors,” she said in an Oct. 27 report in Bulatlat. Instead, she says, Congress should enact legislation to decriminalize it by introducing amendments to the Revised Penal Code. “Our present laws seek to penalize only the women engaged in prostitution. Prostituted women are treated as criminals rather than victims of poverty and gender inequality.
Our laws do not penalize pimps, bar owners and operators or those who pay to use and abuse these women. Prostitution is a highly organized exploitative system,” she explained. According to Ilagan, who works with prostituted women in Davao City through the non-profit organization Talikala, women need education and access to health services in order to ensure protection from sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. ‘Morally unacceptable. ’
For his part, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo called the UN’s suggestion “morally unacceptable,” explaining that legalizing prostitution just makes the situation worse, according to an Oct. 24 report posted on the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website. Legalizing the sex trade will just open a gate for predators to abuse more women, warns Bishop Pabillo, who is chairman of the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action – Justice and Peace. “Give women real rights and decent jobs and not prostitution,” he countered.
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III also oppose the UN’s suggestion, saying that what works in other countries might not work in the Philippines, according to an Oct. 23 report on GMA News Online. For Pimentel, decriminalizing prostitution locally will not yield the same results as in other countries, saying that in more developed countries, women engage in prostitution out of their own choice. “I don’t think the Filipino electorate, as well as the policy-makers, are ready for such a radical proposal to legalize prostitution. he continued. Prostituted women —poor, uneducated, sexually abused According to a PCW policy brief, women and children engaged in prostitution are poor, uneducated, and sometimes sexually abused. “They have been trafficked–recruited, usually through deception, force or intimidation, and forced and kept into prostitution through threats or actual acts of violence, until such time when the victims start believing that there is no other life for them outside of prostitution,” the policy brief says.
Other factors cited include: • Coming from dysfunctional homes • Deception by recruiters • Pornography • Tourism that capitalizes on Filipino women • General apathy of the society and the Church regarding this reality. Excerpt from The CenSEI Report on prostitution. For the full study with data, video and online research, [email protected] com.