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To tingting

March 25 2004 at 4:36 PM
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Mangi Nating 

Response to The place of women in modern PNG society

I hope that my posts have not become a source of irritation to some of you because of their length. If that is the case, I ask you forgive me for my inability to be concise.

Tingting, these are some of my thoughts on legalizing prostitution. Generally this issue is approached from a moral perspective, but since that angle has almost been done to death I will try a different tack and attack it from a possibly more objective angle. However I don’t think one can be completely objective about such an issue because there are some personal judgments made about what is best for society.

In order to focus my thoughts, I have singled out certain of your ‘claims’ (or questions)
Firstly will legalizing prostitution contain the spread of AIDS because of increased rights for ‘sex-workers’?
Secondly, is prostitution a suitable form of employment?
Thirdly, will legalizing it lead to increased government revenues in the forms of taxation (income tax presumably?)?

AIDS & Prostitution

If prostitutes do not take preventative measures when prostitution is illegal, what makes it more likely that they will take these measures after the practice becomes legal? One may argue that their clientele who would be forced to comply with strict industry standards, like wearing condoms before they are permitted to have sex. But will this be the general case given that there will now be a greater number of prostitutes 'competiting' for clients? It is more likely that the client will search for a prostitute who does not require him to follow the ‘strict industry standards’. This is very probable since most of these prostitutes are likely to be poor and in desperate need of money. So we have a similar situation before and after the legalization with regards to the precautions taken to prevent the spread of AIDS.

But, one may argue that there will be people to enforce these standards. How likely is that though? Are we to divert resources used to police property and persons in order to ensure that those who go to prostitutes follow some agreed upon standards? Even if there were a separate force formed to police this industry, where would the money come from to fund it? From the ‘income tax’ gained from the prostitutes or from general taxation? The regulation of such an industry would be costly, given that there would be a large number of sex-workers dispersed over a large area, and given the general inefficiency of bureaucracies to police present industries, what makes this new ‘industry’ any different?
So it seems that even if we were to legalize prostitution, it would be unlikely to reduce the number of people contracting AIDS.

It is somewhat ironic that we are seeking to curb the increase in AIDS by promoting those behaviors most likely to increase its incidence.

We have to also consider the impact on society such a move would have. If we were to legalize prostitution, it would probably lead to an increase in the number of people using prostitutes. Now we have seen above that it will be unlikely that they (the prostitutes) will have higher standards than they do now, so the probability of someone ‘catching’ the virus increases, because of the increase in the number of people frequenting prostitutes. It is a known fact that part of the clientele who visit these brothels are married men with jobs. In fact one could say, given that it costs to go to a prostitute that the majority of these men are employed (A reasonable assumption I would think).

If there is an increase in the number of people contracting the disease from prostitutes, and among this increase are the married men with jobs, then they will pass on the virus to their spouses. These men will now be out of the workforce and onto an already strained healthcare system. The extended family will also be affected, since many of the members of an extended family depend upon these ‘breadwinners.’ Added to all this is the strain this will place on the extended family who will now have to look after the breadwinner and his offspring.

If this is widespread, it only adds to the poverty in society, and since many argue that prostitution is considered by some to be a way out of poverty, it will add to the number of prostitutes joining this ‘burgeoning industry’, increasing the supply of prostitutes and continuing the vicious cycle.

Prostitution & Employment

I do not think much needs to be said here, as I have already mentioned some of the effects of prostitution on employment in the preceding paragraphs. But I should like to add just a few more words.

To argue that prostitution is a form of employment is to think our womenfolk incapable of any creative output. We place a small value upon their ability if we think that they can only add to national output by selling themselves. The problem of unemployment can be tackled in other ways, and it requires our ingenuity and effort in order for us to think of these ways. I have suggested earlier that we should invest in rural education of the womenfolk. We need to educate these rural women how to better utilize their land and the natural resources that they have been given. We need to also look at preventing the rural to urban drift that is causing families to move into the urban areas only to add to the chronic unemployment in some cities, particularly Port Moresby.

I think schemes like the one Dr Puka Temu is doing in his electorate need to become more widespread: Micro-credit schemes. We should be encouraging initiative in our people, a move away from a hand-out mentality toward independence … but these are points for another discussion.

Prostitution & Taxation

It is shortsighted to consider the possible revenues that would accrue to the Government from the legalization of prostitution without considering the costs it would create. Firstly, as mentioned above, there would be the cost of regulating the industry and policing it. Secondly there would be the costs (and these are real costs) of the social problems prostitution would cause. I think most Papua New Guineans know of the dangers husbands can get themselves into when they face an irate wife. In some cases it could lead to costly divorces or even death. Thirdly, for those who contract and spread the disease, there would be the triple costs of losing a productive member of society, adding to the costs of the extended family and adding to the costs of government in providing health care. Lastly, it would be difficult to ensure that all the prostitutes paid taxes because many would operate their ‘businesses’ informally. (This would undoubtedly be the norm).

It seems then that a deeper look at the hoped for benefits of legalizing prostitution show them to be mainly illusory. It is not likely to decrease the incidence of AIDS nor is it likely to increase government revenues. Furthermore there are much better and less socially taxing means of creating employment than through prostitution. So it can be seen that moral arguments aside, there is an objective basis for rejecting the call to legalize prostitution.

To Inmate,

Bro, I have checked my email and I have not received any email from you. It may be easier for you to just post the address on here, as I'm sure it would benefit everybody.

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