Thursday, December 4, 2003

The Monitor (Uganda)

Mps back sex workers

Members of Parliament have supported sex workers who want the law on being idle and disorderly reconsidered.

A group of sex workers petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Edward Ssekandi, in June demanding that the section of the Penal Code that sets out the idle and disorderly offence should be revisited or scrapped altogether.

Ssekandi forwarded the petition to the committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs chaired by Ms Dora Byamukama.

The committee yesterday began looking at the critical issues relating to the petition and the law.

Members of the Law Reform Commission, led by the chairman Prof. Joseph Kakooza, and officials from Police headquarters appeared before the committee.

In their petition, the sex workers want three streets to be declared their areas of operation, or what they are calling "street walks areas".

The streets they want declared red light districts are Mackinon Road, Pilkington Road and Kimathi Avenue.

The sex workers say that anybody who does not want to be associated with them should not use the three City Centre streets after 9 p.m.

They said that Kampala City Council authorities would register and tax them if they so wished.

They also want medical staff to be stationed in the area to provide them with information on basic hygiene and HIV/Aids.

They want the law to be revisited because it only punishes the women and leaves out the men.

The women of the night also say that they have been denied the chance to work by KCC officials and policemen who constantly harass them using the law they are now contesting.

Speaking in support of the sex workers, Samia Bugwe North MP Aggrey Awori said that the colonial government enacted the idle and disorderly law to keep Africans out of urban centres.

"This law is archaic. [It is] based on colonial legacy, [it is] anti-Africa and should be revisited immediately," Awori said.

He said that the word 'idle' does not arise because nowadays prostitutes are called sex workers.

"She can say that 'I'm a worker'. Will you arrest someone who is working?" Awori said.

He said that the law is prone to abuse as it could easily be used against opposition politicians addressing small gatherings.

Capt. Charles Byaruhanga (Kibaale) said that it is very hard to convict anyone for being idle when he or she is walking on the street.

Mr Christopher Kibanzanga (Busongora South) and Mr Kefa Ssempangi (Ntenjeru South) also supported sex workers.

However, Ms Sarah Kiyingi (Rakai Woman) opposed any attempt to change the law.

"This nation has to choose whether we want moral or immoral behaviour in our society," Kiyingi said. "There is no job in the world referred to as sex workers and I hope it will never be. The law is good; if we have a problem with some section of it, we should modify it."

Ms Jean Kyazze of the Law Reform Commission said that sex workers should not complain about the law because it gives them the lesser sentence of only three months.

She said that if they were to be charged under the section on prostitution, they could easily be jailed seven years, which is the maximum sentence.

Kakooza said that research carried out by his Commission showed that the majority of the people want prostitution legalised.

The deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Amos Ngolobe, said that the idle and disorderly law is useful as a way of checking lawlessness and keeping morals in the society.

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Created: January 5, 2004
Last modified: January 15, 2004
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