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Legalising prostitution should only be the start

FESTUS Mogae, the former president of Botswana, last week called on Lesotho to consider legalising prostitution.

Mogae, who is chairing the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, a regional initiative to fight Aids, was on a three-day visit to Lesotho to encourage leaders to accelerate their response to HIV and Aids.

Mogae said criminalising prostitution would continue to hamper efforts to involve sex workers in the fight against HIV.

“Rather include them (prostitutes) in prevention programmes in order for us to reach zero percent infections by 2015.”

Mogae is only being pragmatic.

His suggested remedy is borne out of the realisation that whether we like it or not the world’s oldest profession is part of our society.

He says instead of ostracising prostitutes we must join hands with them in the fight against the HIV pandemic.

But he is only correct to an extent because legalising prostitution cannot be a solution on its own.

The real solution is to eradicate prostitution altogether.

It is important to understand that prostitution is not a career of choice.

No one aspires to be a prostitute.

There is no doubt that poverty is what drives many of our women and girls into prostitution.

With neither jobs nor anything to help them eke a living many women find themselves on the streets “peddling” sex just to survive.

 To stop it we need to deal with poverty.

It cannot be denied that most of those engaged in prostitution are HIV and Aids orphans that have been left to fend for themselves and their siblings.

There are thousands of child-headed families in Lesotho.

Statistics show that there are nearly 200 000 Aids orphans and most of them are young girls.

It is this huge number of orphans that feeds the sex industry.

Because they are neglected by the government, relatives and the society these children resort to the sex industry.

What makes them more vulnerable is that at times they are too young to understand the importance of using condoms or they are too desperate to negotiate safe sex with clients.

Soon they become infected. 

And so the carnage continues.

It’s a vicious circle: children who are affected by Aids are being forced to engage in prostitution and are highly likely to be infected.

They die young and some leave their own children who soon find themselves engaging in this dangerous trade.

To stop this vicious circle we must deal with the causes and not the symptoms.

The government needs to strengthen its social welfare programmes to care for orphans.

The state must not relent in its efforts to empower our women with education and income-generating projects.

Society too must take some responsibility.

Legalising prostitution might help us engage those who are already in the industry to join the fight against HIV but it certainly does not stop the vulnerable members of our society from engaging in prostitution.

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