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“Sex work is work, legalize it”

By Liapeng Raliengoane

MASERU – Key Affected Populations Alliance of Lesotho (KAPAL) argues that criminalizing sex work puts workers in constant fear of the police, making them less likely to ask for help if they face danger from a client.

Workers may reportedly worry about being arrested or facing violence or solicitation from law enforcement officers themselves.

An interview with a female sex worker from Maseru, whose identity this article will protect, revealed that she started sex work in 2017 while she was nursing her new-born baby and had no means to provide for the baby.

“I resorted to sex work and my life changed, I was able to buy my new-born baby food, clothes and all essential needs. With the money I get from this work, I am able to meet my family’s needs, next year my child will be in grade 8 and I am going to pay school fees and provide for all needs with the money I make from sex work. My children do not know the kind of job I do, they just know that I work in town,” this sex worker disclosed.

She also said legalizing sex work could come in handy as it will ease the challenges they meet in their line of work which include:  experiencing violence from clients who sometimes rape them and force them into unprotected sex and violence also from law enforcement officers.

Another sex worker made known that she started sex work in 2015 after she had lost her job as a domestic worker. “After losing my job, I went to live with my grandfather and when I reached there, I found beautiful, well-dressed ladies who rented single rooms owned by my grandfather. The ladies told me they worked at the factories and since I was job hunting, I went with them to their workplace one day. To my surprise, the “factories” turned out to be “the streets”.  Since I was desperate, I stayed and made money, I am still making money through sex work even to date.” 

KAPAL Executive Director Lepheana Mosooane indicated that decriminalizing sex work goes hand-in-hand with recognizing sex work as work and protecting the rights of sex workers. “Decriminalizing sex work means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, and fear of violence.”

He highlighted that sex work is the exchange of sex for money, goods and services by a sex worker either as a part-time career or full-time career. That a sex worker must be someone who is 18 years and above, she/he/they must not be forced by drugs, alcohol, human trafficking, sex slavery or any form of threat.

Mosooane introduced KAPAL as a legally registered organization in Lesotho and was registered in 2017.  He said the organization’s mission is to build a sustainable movement that fights for decriminalization of sex work while also advocating for the rights of other key populations through advocacy, capacity building and empowerment.

Towards reaching the goal of legalizing sex work, KAPAL Project Coordinator Hlomohang Letsie revealed that KAPAL is implementing a six months project funded by Urgent Action Fund Africa (UAFA). “The project started in September 2022 and is expected to end in February 2023. The key objectives include training media houses on sex workers issues, lobbying Members of Parliament (MPs) to legalize sex work, seeking the constitutional court’s intervention and sensitizing communities about sex workers’ issues.”

The Lesotho Penal Code Act of 2010 Section 55 on Prostitution: (1) In this section, “prostitute” means a person who engages in sexual activity for payment. (2) A person who incites, instigates or engages or procures another to engage, either in Lesotho or elsewhere, in prostitution, commits an offence. (3) A person who persistently importunes others in a public place with the intention of engaging in sexual intercourse or with the intention of facilitating their sexual intercourse with another person commits an offence.