Honourable Mireille Martin
Minister of Gender Equality,
Child Development and Family Welfare
I am writing to express my outrage at the state of our law on prostitution and the manner in which it is being enforced. I was very disturbed to read in “Le Mauricien” newspaper of 12 August 2012, the case of this young woman working in a massage parlour who was prosecuted before the District Court of Curepipe on a charge of “Soliciting another person for an immoral purpose “under section 91 A of the Criminal Code (Supplementary) Act. She pleaded not guilty and was not represented by counsel. The District Magistrate found her guilty as charged and sentenced her to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 plus costs.
Whereas Section 91 A of the Criminal Code (Supplementary) Act provides that : “Any person who solicits or importunes another person in a public place for an immoral purpose, shall commit an offence …” I note that only the woman has been prosecuted and found guilty under that section of the law. Yet, the woman was on her work premises at the material time. It was the man, the client who went to the massage parlour and paid Rs 500 for “un massage et des relations sexuelles” and during the raid, the Police even found him to be in possession of condoms. If he was only going for a “massage”, a legitimate question to be asked is why was he in possession of condoms. And yet, sadly enough, only the woman was prosecuted and found guilty of “soliciting”. For the purpose of the criminal trial, the man was the “victim”.
I am not aware if the owner of the premises and/or the person who manages the massage parlour have been prosecuted under Section 90 of the Criminal Code (Supplementary) Act or under Section 253 of the Criminal Code.
This is yet another example of a gender biased interpretation of section 91A, where men, customers of prostitution who fuel the sex trade, are outside the radar of law enforcement crackdowns.
The laws on prostitution which dates back to 1838 and 1870 were put in place for reasons of public order and are not based on gender equality or with concern for the well-being of the victims. The effect of such legislation is that these laws are enforced mainly against the real victims. Victims are being arrested, fined or imprisoned, and are given little access to services that could assist them to leave prostitution whereas the buyers escape punishment.
Task Force report in August 2001
As I noted in the Task Force report in August 2001, “the current response of the enforcement authorities is not only ineffective but they are also harmful in that they only target prostitutes, whilst section 253 and section 90 are not adequately enforced. By so doing, law enforcement authorities marginalize and victimize prostitutes, making it more difficult for those who want to get out of the industry and more difficult for those who remain in prostitution to claim their human rights….”
When one analyzes women’s position in society, including how men use some women and girls for prostitution purposes, it becomes clear that prostitution is another patriarchal tool of oppression that has deleterious effects on the women and girls who are induced and kept in prostitution, as well as an extreme form of male violence used to control female human beings as a class.
The problems inherent in the sex trade will remain unsolved if the demand side is not addressed. I am therefore writing to urge you to consider a review of section 91A Criminal Code (Supplementary) Act 1870 in order to amend the law on prostitution, in line with the recommendations I made in the Task Force report of August 2001.
The report on the “Commercial sexual exploitation of children” which was made public in 2000, clearly revealed that prostitution and trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation have known an alarming increase during the past decades. Yet, no further research has been undertaken since. In the meantime, we know that there is a proliferation of massage parlours in the country ; we know about the increased vulnerability of different groups of women and girls such as migrant women workers amongst others.
Trafficking and prostitution of women and girls for profit is one of the fastest growing global enterprises, after drug and arms trafficking. In Mauritius, too, the prostitution industry is booming and expanding in an environment where many subscribe to the ideology of a free market economy, a market in which women and girls are just one among an infinite number of highly saleable items.
Prostitution is a serious problem that is harmful to the prostituted woman or child and also to society at large. I condemn those who wish to normalize prostitution as a form of sexual entertainment, with equal players exchanging services for money, those who consider that “working” as a “sex worker” is a legitimate career path for women, an appropriate professional choice.
A separate class of female human beings…
Any society that claims to defend principles of legal, political, economic, and social equality for women and girls must reject the idea that women and children, mostly girls, are commodities that can be bought, sold, and sexually exploited by men. To do otherwise is to allow that a separate class of female human beings, especially women and girls who are economically marginalized, is excluded from these measures, as well as from the universal protection of human dignity enshrined in the body of international human rights instruments developed during the past 60 years.
I am writing to urge you in your capacity as Minister for Gender Equality to make the work against prostitution and trafficking in human beings a political priority. Prostitution and trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes must be seen as issues that cannot, and should not, be separated ; both are harmful practices and intrinsically linked. It is high time to denounce prostitution as an aspect of male violence against women and girls. This is an essential part of efforts to create a contemporary and democratic society where full gender equality is the norm, and to recognize the right to equal participation of women and men, girls and boys, in all areas of society.
Pimps, traffickers, and prostitution buyers knowingly exploit the vulnerability of the victims caused by high rates of poverty, unemployment, discriminatory labour practices, gender inequalities, and male violence against women and children. On a structural level, it is important for the Government to recognize that to succeed in the campaign against sexual exploitation, the political, social, and economic conditions under which women and girls live must be improved by introducing development measures of poverty reduction, sustainable development, and social programs focusing specifically on women.
The law is the first attempt to address the root cause of prostitution and trafficking in beings : the demand, the men who assume the right to purchase persons for prostitution purposes. From the Swedish experience, we know that when the buyers risk punishment, the number of men who buy prostituted women decreases, and the local prostitution markets become less lucrative.
As recommended by the CEDAW Committee, I strongly urge you to consider an amendment of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Code (Supplementary) Act in order to criminalize men who buy women and girls for sexual purposes, and not the woman. It is time to follow the path of Sweden and to have a law which recognizes the harmful effects of prostitution on the women and girls who are the victims and to target only buyers of persons in prostitution.
I also humbly recommend that the offence should comprise all forms of sexual services, whether they are purchased on the street, in brothels, in so-called massage parlours, from escort services, or in other similar circumstances. The law must be broad enough to cover all aspects of the prostitution industry and to include internet marketers of prostituted women and children ; mail-order-bride agencies ; phone sex operations ; sex tourism agencies, as well as the creators and distributors of pornography, third-party beneficiaries, such as travel agencies, hotels, and air companies that benefit from the prostitution of women and children in the tourism industry.
Mauritian gender equality politics
It is incumbent on your Ministry to send a strong signal that in Mauritius, women and children are not for sale. Only through an amendment of the law, you will able to dispel men’s self-assumed right to buy women and children for prostitution purposes and question the idea that men should be able to express their sexuality in any form and at any time.
It is time for the buying of women and girls for sexual exploitation and prostitution purposes to be viewed as being against the basic tenets of Mauritian gender equality politics. The focus and cornerstone of the policies of your Ministry against prostitution and trafficking in human beings must be the root cause, that is the recognition that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the prostitution industry would not be able flourish and expand.
I remain at your disposal for any assistance in connection with the amendment to the law.
13th August 2012
Copy to : Honourable Yatin Varma, Attorney General Chairman of Law Reform Commission
Honourable Mireille Martin