The Nigerian Sex Workers Association has pleaded with the federal government to de-criminalise prostitution in Nigeria for effective control of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The National Coordinator of the association, Amaka Enemo, made the appeal on Wednesday in Abuja while briefing newsmen at the inauguration of new report titled; `Understanding the high risk of urban sexual networks in Nigeria.’
The association lamented that HIV infection had continued to increase because the government treated prostitution as a crime.
She gave illustrations on how law enforcement agents, especially the police, consequently harassed sex workers and sometimes demand sex without using condoms.
To buttress her demand, Enemo was said to have played an active role in gathering information for the report, which was compiled by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, the University of Manitoba, United States, and the World Bank.
She said, “Sex workers face violence, especially from their clients and law enforcement agents. Sex work is seen as a crime and the police raid streets and brothels to arrest sex workers. They collect money and if the girl cannot pay money, she will have to give sex to the policemen. If the law enforcer does not want to use condom, the sex worker has to agree and this is why HIV is on the increase.
“So, in this study, all the sex workers we interacted with said their biggest trouble was law enforcers.”
The 36-year-old said several studies had shown that countries where prostitution is not illegal had lower cases of sexually transmitted diseases, while Nigeria, where it is illegal, had one of the highest rates of HIV in the world.
She said sex work should be made legal, and government should not saddle sex workers with the responsibility of paying tax.
She said, “When I visited Amsterdam (Holland), I was able to visit the red light district where sex workers work because prostitution is legal there. I have also visited New Zealand where they have decriminalised sex work.
“When you decriminalise it, there will be less exploitation of sex workers and the violence will reduce.”
Emeno said since HIV is a communicable disease and had no cure, sex workers should be given proper treatment and not victimised.
She said an infected sex worker could directly or indirectly infect as many as 100 people, adding that the government must not hound, but partner them.
Emeno added, “Decriminalise the work so that all of us will be healthy. It might interest you to know that Nigeria has the second highest risk of HIV worldwide and we are hoping to get to zero before 2030.
“How can it end when the drivers of the epidemic are being criminalised?”