Bonela reiterates call for legalising sex work

Moshupa –  An official of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and AIDS (BONELA) has called on government to legalise prostitution and allow foreigners free access to anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) if it is serious about winning the battle against HIV and AIDS.

Speaking at an event held ahead of the World AIDS Day commemoration in Moshupa last Wednesday, Felistus Motimedi, who also called for free distribution of condoms to prison inmates, said some men rape sex workers but the victims cannot report the abuse to the police because prostitution is illegal in the country.

“Some HIV positive people among us are fired at work merely because of their HIV status. They are not promoted at work just because they are positive. They are also not granted scholarships, despite their potential to perform better, just because they are positive. As parents we still have difficulty in explaining issues to HIV positive children,” said Motimedi.

She said HIV positive women are often accused of frequently falling pregnant inspite of their full knowledge of their HIV status.

What surprises her is the fact that nothing is ever mentioned about the women’s partners as no pregnancy can occur without the involvement of a woman and a man.

“There are people in our society – men and women– who are sex workers. They live in our midst though they operate illegally. These people are at high risk of HIV infection because their access to counselling and treatment is limited. Sometimes their potential clients take them to far away places and then dump them there – leaving them stranded.

“Some are raped and the services given a rape victim start with the police. After being taken for medical examination victims are provided with treatment, which should be done within three days from the time of the rape. Since they are not legally recognised, sex-workers are afraid of reporting their abusers. This puts them and their partners at risk. They should be recognised so that they can be helped,” she said.

She also highlighted the challenges faced by prison inmates in the country: “We have relatives who have been imprisoned. Our prisons are overcrowded. Sexual urges affect prisoners who have left their partners at home. Sexual intercourse therefore occurs between inmates. Without condoms their risk of contracting diseases, including AIDS, is high.

“Foreign prisoners are denied access to ARV treatment even though they share prisons with Batswana. We say they should also access treatment.”

“Batswana have sexual relations with foreigners. If a Motswana woman is in a relationship with a foreigner and she is positive and falls pregnant, she can enter the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme.

“But this is not the case with a foreign woman who falls pregnant while in a relationship with a Motswana man. This is unfair and should not be allowed.

“I do not know whether this is the case here in Moshupa. But in the rest of the country, co-habitation is common.

In situations where the other partner depends on the other for support, the chances are the dependent one is likely to be dictated to on where, how and when to have sex. So they are at a higher risk of being infected, as they do not make decisions,” she said.

Motimedi told her audience that Botswana has gays and lesbians. She said they are human beings like everyone else and should be recognised. For their part, some people accused BONELA of influencing children to be wayward by advocating for their rights.

One elderly man asked where a parent would report to when a child, claiming to be exercising his/her rights, refuses to be sent on errands. Another man advised the youth to change their behaviour by avoiding risky sexual relations with older people.  Another elderly woman said she supported BONELA that foreigners should not be discriminated against when it comes to HIV treatment.

On gays and lesbians she said: “Had I known that this dialogue would include the gays and lesbians topic I could have brought my Bible with me. The Bible says it is a sin to be gay or lesbian.” BONELA director Uyapo Ndadi said that human rights do not encourage waywardness. Instead people are empowered in order to improve their relationships with others. He reminded his audience that ‘Your rights begin where mine end’.

“BONELA does not encourage homosexuality or prostitution. We only urge you to accept these people as fellow human beings and find means of helping them. I am surprised by many Batswana who when you talk of homosexuality they will tell you how Christian they are.

“When people commit adultery in the church they keep quiet. Even if the pastor is very promiscuous, the church members just remain silent. Even if the congregation becomes so promiscuous that so and so bears children with so and so in the church they remain silent. But let one young man say ‘my choice is to be in an affair with another man’, they will read the Bible to you, showing you how sinful that is.” (Silas Press Agency)

Source – The Monitor