NewsEast & Horn AfricaUganda MPs mull legalising prostitution to curb sexual offence rates


Posted on Friday, 18 December 2015 14:31

Uganda MPs mull legalising prostitution to curb sexual offence rates

By Godfrey Olukya

Ugandan legislators are spilt down the middle over the legalisation of prostitution, as they debate the Sexual Offences Amendment Bill, which seeks to curb the high sexual offence rates.

One group of MPs has argued that the legalisation of prostitution could bring down the levels of sexual assaults, especially against children, but another - led by Olivia Kwagala - says prostitution goes against Ugandan culture. Kwagala insists that prostitution is taboo, but another legislator, Martin Muzale says sex work could help curb sexual abuses.

We are trying to fight the vice but it is still common especially in rural areas

Uganda has a high rate of sexual offences, with police recording over 6,000 cases across the country in the last five months. According to statistics released by ministry of education, 10 per cent of girls drop out of school due to pregnancies as a result of rape or defilement.

"Each year we get cases of teachers raping female students. We are trying to fight the vice but it is still common especially in rural areas," a deputy inspector of schools, Abraham Buule said.

Some teachers insist legalising sex work will see young pupils being lured into the trade. "By legalising prostitution, the government will be giving licence to [older girls], who reach maturity [while in school] to stop going to school and join the trade," Wilson Kabanda, a secondary school teacher, said.

Health and Protection

The Kampala-based sex workers association has welcomed suggestions made by legislator Muzale, who believes that the solution to dealing with rape and sexual violence against children is to allow "sex workers to be in action so that those who need them can go to brothels and buy sex".

"If our work is legalised, we will even start paying taxes to government since we will no longer be chased around city authorities, which is good for our economy," says Shanita Akol, secretary of the sex workers association.

She also argues that legalisation would help reduce sexually transmitted diseases, as legal recognition would give them access to health facilities, as well as legal representation in cases of abuse.

Whether or not the legalisation of prostitution would be achieved, the sticking point, it seems, is the lack of understanding of the legal framework protecting the rights of girls and women across the country.

Sensitisation, culture and tough laws

Faced with underfunding, family planning organisations are not reaching their sensitisation targets. "We try our best to reach women and girls but we cannot be everywhere in the country due to limited resources. It is only a small percentage of girls and women in the country that have access to parenthood organisations," says Lillian Namuddu, who works with Reproductive Health Uganda, one of the few parenthood organisations in the country.

Sensitisation campaigns have also seen some young girls being taught taekwondo skills, information confirmed by inspector general of police, Kale Kayihura who also suggested girls should also be equipped with red pepper sprays. It isn't quite certain how teaching all girls of school going age self-defence, and equipping them with pepper spray, would be achieved.

The country's tough laws, where rapists risk the death sentence if found guilty of aggravated defilement, have not succeeded in curbing the high rates of sexual assaults, as many go unreported because some tribal practices deal with sexual assaults outside the legal system.

"In Karamoja, a man who wants to get a wife has to first rape a virgin before going to request for her from her parents," says John Chipong, a Karamojong elder. Although not all tribal practices encourage the marrying off of victims, others like the Bagisu tribe are known to fine men found guilty of sexual assault up to five cows.

Rape in Uganda carries a punishment of five to 10 years, while defilement of underage girls carries 15 years to life imprisonment. Aggravated defilement can lead to death sentence.

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