The series of prostitute murders that occurred this summer in Rwanda’s capital has revived debate on the world’s oldest profession. On the whole, the country’s very modest population opposes the legalization of prostitution. However, some young people, not to mention the workers themselves, are promoting more pragmatic solutions for safety in the sex industry.
This past July in a populous Kigali neighbourhood, the lifeless bodies of over a dozen sex workers were found strangled or stabbed. The police subsequently made arrests, with some suspects said to have confessed to acting in revenge against prostitutes who allegedly infected them with the HIV virus.
The turmoil compelled Rwandan MPs to conduct a survey on prostitution, and its results were presented earlier this month in the plenary session of the assembly and senate.
At the end of the debate on 19 October, the MPs recommended as a solution that the government group sex workers under profit-generating cooperatives. But no deputy dared call for their legalization.
On the contrary, they all called for the strict implementation of the law. Prostitution remains a crime in Rwanda, punishable with up to seven years of imprisonment.
A majority of Rwandans does not seem to object to this.
"Legalize prostitution? In other words, saying to women: ‘You have the right to sell your bodies’? These are Western ideas. Rwanda has been through all kinds of evil; I hope we don’t go that far," says Chantal Uwamariya. The young teacher, who wishes to enter the Carmelite Sisters, finds the idea appalling to the core.
A similarly intense aversion is expressed by Emmanuel Musabyimana. The young mechanic says: "Think about what our society would be like if prostitution was officially recognized as a way to earn a living – a profession just like construction or farming!"
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