We are ready to pay tax, say sex workers

Commercial Sex Workers demonstrate to protest harassment by authorities and call for protection of their human rights in Nairobi March 6, 2012. The workers said they were ready to remit taxes to the government as long as they are recognised and their rights protected. JAYNE NGARI

Sex workers have said they are ready to remit taxes to the government as long as they are recognised and their rights protected.

The Kenya Sex Workers Alliance (KESWA) Tuesday argued that they are in an “industry that controls massive revenue” which would otherwise contribute to the economy of the country if tapped by the taxman.

“There is a lot of revenue in the industry and we are ready to pay our taxes if the government decriminalises sex workers in this country,” said Doughtie Ogutu, one of the KESWA founders.

Their position came just weeks after Nairobi Mayor George Aladwa formed a committee to check whether prostitution should be legalised in the city.

The committee, led by assistant town clerk in charge of reforms Daniel Masetu was mandated to analyse city by-laws that make prostitution illegal and advise the mayor. However, until then, Mr Aladwa said frequent crackdowns on prostitution would continue.

The sex workers claimed they were in it by choice because they are adults and no one should condemn them but recognise them as a way of fighting HIV and Aids.

“Who says that people should judge others? Who knows what people do behind doors? There’s only one being who should judge us and that is God. If we have sinned, it is Him who should say so,” said John Mathenge, the KESWA Coordinator.

The Ministry of Health estimates that at least 30 per cent of HIV patients are sex workers or those who bought sex from them. The National Aids Control Unit indicates that another 15 per cent of new infections occur among prostitutes.

It’s not clear how many sex workers there are in Kenya, but the Unit shows that there are 7,000 commercial sex workers in Nairobi alone. KESWA claimed it had 40,000 followers.

On Tuesday, they held a demonstration in Nairobi to mark the World Sex Workers’ Day where they argued that they have been subjected to discrimination despite the country passing new laws for equality.

Prostitution for material gain may be outlawed under the Penal Code although the punishment meted to men is different from that given to women.

Under section 153 and 154, a man found to gain from prostitution “in any public place” is charged with misdemeanour, an offence liable for any term of sentence or corporal punishment on being found guilty for the second time. The woman on the other hand would be charged with felony.

They wore face masks and carried banners some reading “My body, my business”, “My body, my choice” and “show us the money for our health.”

“Sex workers are violated every day, but they are not able to access health and legal services because of discrimination.

“A lot of times some us are raped, but no one would believe or help us get treated,” argued Ms Ogutu.

While they acknowledged prostitution is illegal, they said they are ready to compromise with the government on how they should work within the available laws.