Human Rights Group Seeks To Decriminalize Sex Workers Globally

Human rights group Amnesty International is holding its 32nd council meeting in Dublin, Ireland, from August 7 to 11 to vote on the decriminalization of sex work around the world. Against scattered opposition, the 500 or so Amnesty members are expected to push through the draft policy two years in the making.

According to Irish Independent, the policy calls for countries not to impose penalties on the buyers or sellers of sex, and also operational aspects of the trade, such as running brothels, should be decriminalized.

Rather than reduce human trafficking, criminalization of the sex trade has been found by Amnesty researchers to exacerbate the problem by making traffickers and their victims go underground, which discourages those exploited to seek help from the authorities.

According to the Huffington Post, other leading international health policy and human rights bodies have clearly called for decriminalization of the sex trade as necessary to meeting the health and human rights of sex workers. These groups include the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law.

Criticism of the policy comes from those who believe that while sellers of sex should be protected, buyers of sex should be prosecuted. Aside from several women’s groups, Hollywood celebrities like Anne Hathaway, Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep, and Kate Winslet have called on Amnesty International not to go ahead with its proposal.

Ireland is close to passing legislation which will protect those selling sex, but will see their buyers charged. The new legislation follows Northern Ireland with similar laws implemented at the beginning of June, structured like the Swedish model.

The problem with protecting the sellers but not the buyers, Amnesty researchers found, has been the police practice of targeting sex workers to arrest their johns. As a result, physical abuse or theft goes unreported by sex workers for fear that getting their clients arrested would destroy their livelihood.

Amnesty International is confident in its proposal by virtue of the solid research behind it. The following statement was released by the human rights group.

“This is a divisive, sensitive and complex issue and it is important that we get it right. That is why we have been working for the last two years to develop a proposed policy to protect the human rights of sex workers based on solid research and consultation with stakeholders.”

Amnesty International draws much of its impetus from sex workers themselves who are strong advocates of the proposal. According to the Huffington Post, sex worker support groups in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America handed Amnesty International a petition bearing more than 6,000 signatures in favor of its proposal.

Of special concern to Amnesty International is Southeast Asia, an international hub for the trafficking of sex workers to Japan, China, Australia, Europe, and the United States. The vulnerability of young Asian girls in destitute villages, easily tricked by recruiters into sexual slavery, is a continuing conundrum for the human rights group.

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