Following Ugandan Parliament Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s announcement in August that Uganda is considering legalizing prostitution, last week a group of sex workers increased the pressure on Parliament by petitioning to have their profession legally recognized. Students at Makerere University immediately responded with a counter-petition opposing the legalization of prostitution on the grounds that it would “corrupt moral and cultural values.”
Writing for the Rwandan New Times, Henry Lule claims that in addition to corrupting Ugandan society, the legalization of prostitution would encourage homosexuality, discourage population growth and lead to the legalization of “sex no matter what age.”
Those advocating for the legalization of prostitution argue that current laws do little to prevent prostitution and that establishing a system of regulation would serve to protect both sex workers and their clients. Legally recognizing prostitution would give sex workers who currently lack legal protections a recourse in case of rape or abuse (1) and pave the way for increased social services for these women; mandated health checkups and condom use would help prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs.
Though many women are forced into prostitution by extreme poverty (often caused by violent conflict and/or displacement), the truth is that for many women sex work is simply the most economically and socially viable career choice. Compared to most other jobs available to women, prostitution is lucrative, and working hours are conducive to caring for children.
Legalizing sex work does not equate to legalizing the exploitation of children or to expressing approval of unprotected sex or the spread of STDs. Rather, making prostitution a legal career would improve the status of sex workers in Uganda and help prevent disease. Instead of punishing women who often have few other economic options, the Government of Uganda should establish protections for them and enable them to live as securely and healthily as possible while working towards a future that provides more career choices for women.