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Statement by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon John Jeffery, MP

13 January 2015

The front page headline and the introduction to the article on the possible decriminalisation of sex work, on page 6 of today’s Sowetan newspaper, is factually incorrect and thus calls for clarification.

Currently, under South African legislation the voluntary selling of adult prostitution, buying of voluntary adult sex as well as all prostitution related acts are criminal offences.

The South African Law Reform Commission undertook a study into adult prostitution and released its Discussion Paper on it in 2009. In its Discussion Paper of 2009 the Commission found that adult prostitution has been the subject of considerable public debate in South Africa.  The topic remains an emotive one and opinions on prostitution are strongly polarised. 

Various submissions and comments were received and four possible options were suggested:

  1. Total criminalisation of sex work (in-line with the current position)
  2. Partial criminalisation –such as decriminalising the sale of sex but not the buying.
  3. Non-criminalisation (the same as decriminalisation of sex work where sex work and related activities are no longer a crime)
  4. Regulation

The Discussion Paper was widely published and distributed. This process is currently at an advanced stage and the final report of the Law Reform Commission will be formally presented to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services shortly.  Once it has been finalised, public engagement will have to take place and various role-players as well as the public will have the opportunity to be involved in this process.

At no stage during yesterday’s event – which forms the subject of the Sowetan article – was a statement made either for or against the decriminalisation of sex work. That would be pre-empting the outcome of the Law Reform Commission process.

The sensationalist front page heading “Government tells sex worker conference legalising the trade is out of the question” is a no more than a figment of a Sowetan sub-editor’s imagination.  The sentiment contained in the article that “moves to decriminalize sex work may come to naught” shows a complete lack of understanding of the issue at hand and of the law making process. Partial criminalisation or regulation are also options which need to be investigated, along with other internationally accepted legal models.