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Legalise prostitution in Nigeria to end spread of HIV, STDs—Report

In what may sound tentatively absurd, the Nigerian Sex Workers Association (NSWA), though not yet duly registered or officially recongised has called on the Federal Government to make brotel sex work a legal business in Nigeria to curb the spread of HIV and other related sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The lead argument of the group and their sponsors is that if prostitution is decriminalized, easy access will be given to the operators on issues of diseases disgnosis and early treatment including HIV Aids and other STDs.

They argued that if the sex workers are free to operate without momentary raids and disturbances by law enforcement agencies, the health status of practitioners will begin to be guaranteed at all times, making way for the eventual eradication of sexually transmitted diseases.

The association added that HIV infection had continued to increase because the government treated prostitution as a crime and made a disturbing revelation saying “law enforcement agents, especially the police, consequently harassed sex workers and sometimes demand sex without using condoms”.

Explaining issues during a presentation of new report in Abuja, the National Coordinator of the association, Ms. Amaka Enemo, said the report titled; ‘Understanding the High Risk of Urban Sexual Networks in Nigeria,’ showed that “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”.

The association, according to Enemo, 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.

Enemo averred that “In this study, all the sex workers we interacted with said their biggest trouble was law enforcers.”

The coordinator, 36 years of age, noted that 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.

The association argued that sex work should be made legal, and government should not saddle sex workers with the responsibility of paying tax.

Continuing, Enemo 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 while they take greater care of their bodies and keep their customers free form health crisis.”

“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.

Enemo queried “How can it end when the drivers of the epidemic are being criminalised?”

But in his remarks, the Director, Strategic Knowledge Management, NACA, Dr Kayode Ogungbemi, said sex workers must be taken seriously since married men also patronised them.

According to him, “This report looks at the history of casual sex, transactional sex and commercial sex. If we do not reach these women, the infection will continue to spread. So, we must teach these women the use of condoms and going for HIV tests because if we don’t do that, they will continue to spread it. Even married people patronise them.”

The Country Coordinator, Centre for Global Public Health, University of Manitoba, Dr. Kalada Green, said the exercise, which was funded by the World Bank, was done in order to improve the efficiency of HIV prevention methods and control of related STDs.