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Kenya: Abolish Criminal Laws Related to Sex Work

World Policy Journal begins each issue with the Big Question, where we ask a panel of experts to provide insight into the cover theme. The question for the winter 2016/2017 World Policy Interrupted issue is: What do sex workers need to better control their working conditions? Below, Caroline Kemunto advocates for the abolition of laws and policies that criminalize sex work. 

By Caroline Kemunto

Sex workers constantly face challenges in accessing justice for human rights violations linked to sexual and gender-based violence, illegal arrests and detention, extortion, denial of health care services, and ejection by landlords.

A growing body of evidence suggests that abolishing laws and policies that criminalize sex work will reduce stigma against, and improve the working conditions of, sex workers. It will enable them to operate independently, self-organize, work in a friendly environment, and improve their social standing. Decriminalization will enable sex workers to be at the center of decision making at the national level regarding HIV programming, and to be able to openly oppose legal oppression and other forms of stigma and discrimination without fear of backlash from state agencies and society. Decriminalization will allow open engagement with sex workers to ensure that they learn, and use what they have learnt, to support advocacy for rights-based policies, laws, and practices based on their own experiences.

The impact of human and health rights violations on sex workers’ well-being is already well documented. The Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya, Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network, and Kenya Sex Workers Alliance have all issued publications recommending the abolition of criminal laws relating to sex work—the same laws that also perpetuate human and health rights violations of sex workers.

Laws that criminalize sex work cause sex workers to feel unsafe reporting crimes, including violent crimes and other abuses, because they fear prosecution, police harassment, maltreatment in health-care facilities, stigma, and discrimination.

Therefore, in order to better control the work of sex workers, sex work must be decriminalized.

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Caroline Kemunto is a female sex worker living in Kenya. She’s the board chairperson of Kenya Sex Workers Alliance and the program manager for Survivors Organization, a sex worker-led community group providing community-led clinic services to 3,300 male and female sex workers, as well as advocating for their rights.

[Photo courtesy of klndonnelly]

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