prositutesLast week, Amnesty International, one of the biggest human-rights groups in the World, called for prostitution to be legalised worldwide. But human trafficking groups thought otherwise. They felt that could do more harm than good. However voting on the issue began Friday, August 7 and ended on the 11 August, by groups in about 150 countries. Advocates for sex workers gave their support for the initiative, even as a petition in support of such policy garnered more than 6,000 signatures, including dozens from sex worker support and advocacy groups in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America.
In Nigeria, the proposal received harsh criticism with many people condemning it. Anti-trafficking activists critisized it as well as American celebrities Anne Hathaway, Lena Dunham and Kate Winslet who called for its reversal.
After days of emotional debates and intense lobbying however, delegates from Amnesty International voted on Tuesday to support a policy that calls for decriminalisation of the sex trade, including prostitution, payment for sex and brothel ownership.
Although the vote was taken openly among the delegates, the meeting was closed and the vote count kept confidential. Sarah Beamish, a board member who will help draft the final policy over the next few months said the vote passed comfortably.
The vote came on the last day of a biennial meeting in Dublin of about 400 members of the human rights organization from 60 countries who gathered to set the group’s future policies.
The proposal about prostitution was said to have provoked an aggressive lobbying campaign by international groups opposed to sparing buyers and pimps from penalties. Competing petitions were also organised by women’s groups and celebrities, including former President Jimmy Carter, who issued a letter, appealing to the group to maintain penalties for buyers and to “stay true to its mission.”
Amnesty International had considered pushing for decriminalisation of Prostitution in July 2015. This followed two years of research and consultation with its members, and then came to the conclusion that decriminalization was the best way to reduce risks that prostitutes faced anywhere in the World. The organization contended that they were exposed to arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, and physical and sexual violence.
With the vote on Tuesday, the task before Amnesty International’s 12-member board is to now hammer out the final draft of a policy that the group will use to lobby governments to repeal most laws that forbid the sale and purchase of sex. The group’s resolution called for a policy that “supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.”
According to the resolution, “Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse,” Salil Shetty, the secretary general of the organization, said in a statement after the vote.
Expectedly, the proposal split human rights activists with Amnesty chapters in Sweden and France pressing the group to support a so-called Swedish or Nordic model, now followed in several Scandinavian countries, that spares prostitutes from penalties but sanctions the buyers with heavy fines and prison terms. Lawmakers in France are pushing new legislation to punish buyers that most likely will be voted on in the fall.
After the vote, the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, a French organization, vowed that it would no longer work with Amnesty International. “Amnesty chooses impunity for pimps and Johns and not protection from sexual abuse for all women,” the coalition’s Executive Director, Grégoire Théry, said at the meeting as confirmed by New York Times.
Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s Foreign Minister said she was concerned about the effect of Amnesty’s new policy because it is a respected organisation.
“They mixed all these arguments, and that worries me,” she said. “It is a myth about the happy prostitute who does this as a free choice. Unfortunately, I can now hear people saying ‘hurrah’ — all those Johns and pimps who run the brothels. It’s a multibillion-euro industry.”
Amnesty will give its national chapters leeway to decide whether to support or lobby for decriminalization.
“There are no plans to have a major campaign with a focus on this,” said Sarah Beamish, a board member who will help draft the final policy over the next few months. “It’s really up to each section to take this issue up on the local level. There are no plans for a global focus.”
In Nigeria, like in most African countries prostitution is an old business that is still thriving. While the nation does not condone it and orders raids on brothels and other red spots, it is a profession that is quite difficult to eradicate despite efforts of NGOs and other agencies because major towns in Nigeria have been taken over by prostitutes. The profession is one of the most thriving businesses that characterises Festac town in Lagos at present, same for the Capital Territory Abuja as well as other states of the federation.
“Prostitution has taken over Festac, so much that some say that there is a festival of sex that hold in certain parts of the town. The trade seems to be booming, as many commercial sex workers can be seen on the prowl, harassing residents in the area. First Avenue seems to be the most preferred spot, one notices that under the cover of darkness the ladies of the night gather on the long stretch and wait patiently like birds of prey”, says a report.
Some people who spoke in Abuja, on the recommendation include Janet Uzo, a civil servant who does not understand why prostitution should be legalised.
“Our own government should not even give this a thought. Prostitution is against moral ethics and it shouldn’t be encouraged.
“So long as the three major religions in Nigeria are concerned, they are not in support of prostitution and if we think of legalising it, tomorrow some people may come up to say that begging or selling of babies should be legalised or even armed robbery, seeing them as means of survival. It is against our culture and religion,” she stressed.
Bimbo Shola (not real name) in one of the brothels in Abuja said arresting prostitutes on the street violates their human right. “If a prostitute does her business without violating the laws of the land, I don’t think it’s proper for anyone to disturb them except they have alternative means of livelihood for them,” she said and decried inhumane treatment by the task force and the Police in the FCT.
“ They normally use the peak period when business is best in the early hours or late at night to raid the brothels and arrest us as if we were criminals. Most times we have to give them money to secure our release. They raid brothels like five times in a month, making us to forfeit our hard earned money” she explained.
She lamented that most of them got into prostitution because of the harsh situation of the economy.
“What else can I do? I am the first born of five children and our father is late, I have to do something to help my younger ones. Although my family members do not know the kind of business I do here in Abuja, they expect me to help put food on the table and pay school fees. So legalising prostitution will enable us operate without fear of arrest or intimidation” she said.
Joy Ibe, another prostitute told Nigerian Pilot on Saturday that Prostitution is a choice. If you prefer to use your body to make money instead of doing something else you should be free to do so.
Amazing Udoh is another call girl and a graduate who learned tailoring but had her shop demolished by former FCT Minister, and present Governor of Kaduna state Ahmed El-Rufai.
“I am a human being with flesh and blood, as a person and as a graduate I have tried to make ends meet, but it seems fate worked against me so I opted for prostitution despite the dangers.
Contrary to claims that prostitution increases the chances of getting infected with HIV/AIDs, and other sexually transmitted diseases, they said they take necessary measures to safeguard their health. “We are even more careful than those girls that you think are more responsible than us”, they said.

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