Prostitution in Namibia
Prostitution in Namibia is legal and a highly prevalent common practice. Related activities such as solicitation, procuring and being involved in the running of a brothel are illegal. A World Bank study estimated there were about 11,000 prostitutes in Namibia.
Prostitution takes place all over the country, particularly in border areas, transport corridors, Walvis Bay and the capital Windhoek. Most prostitutes are Namibian, but there are also a significant number from Zambia, Botswana and Angola. Most women work independently and few have pimps.
Most prostitutes in Namibia meet their clients either on the street or in bars. Bars often have a room on the premises for the prostitutes to use, and brothels usually have a bar, so the line between a bar and a brothel is often blurred. Some, more up-market, sex workers are contacted by cell phone or the Internet and work in high-end clubs and hotels.
Many clients are reluctant to use condoms, and offer to pay more for unprotected sex. Condoms may be difficult to obtain at times, and can be confiscated by police and used as evidence of prostitution.
Child prostitution is a problem, particularly in Walvis Bay and Windhoek.
In 1899, regulations around brothels using white prostitutes were drawn up in Swakopmund. This allowed the authorities to monitor the sexual health of the prostitutes and was designed to control the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Colonial authorities believed unregulated African prostitutes were the main source of STIs. Other towns subsequently introduced similar regulations, including Okahandja, Karibib, Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Luderitz, Tsumeb and Seeheim. The use of white prostitutes was encouraged to try to prevent relationships between white men and African women. There is evidence that some of the white prostitutes had been trafficked into the country.
Although white men seeing African prostitutes was discouraged, it was tolerated throughout this era.
South African Rule
Prostitution was not made illegal, but the Undesirables Removal Proclamation (1920) was used to expel most of the white prostitutes and brothel keepers back to Germany. Also introduced in 1920 was the Police Offences Proclamation, which criminalised loitering and solicitation for the purpose of prostitution. There were concerns about child prostitution, and in 1921 the Girls' and Mentally Defective Women's Protection Proclamation was introduced which set the age of consent at 16.
Prostitution was blamed by the authorities for African women migration to the cities from rural areas. A new regulation was introduced in 1938 requiring all "native females" in Windhoek between 18 and 60, unless legally married and living with their husbands, to undergo a medical examination every 6 months. After violent protests in March 1939 the regulation was withdrawn.
The Combating of Immoral Practices Act (Act 21 of 1980) is the main piece of legislation controlling prostitution in Namibia. The main provisions are the prohibiting of mainly third party involvement:
- to solicit in a public street or place
- to exhibit oneself in an indecent dress or manner in public view
- to commit “any immoral act” with another person in public (but not in private)
- to keep a brothel
- to “procure” any female to have unlawful carnal intercourse with another person, to become a prostitute, or to “become an inmate of a brothel”
- to entice a female to a brothel for the purpose of prostitution
- to knowingly live wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution
- to assist in bringing about “the commission by any person of any immoral act with another person”
- to detain a female against her will in a brothel
Windhoek has Municipal Street and Traffic Regulations which prohibit loitering and soliciting.
In case law it has been established that a prostitute working on her own in a house is not keeping a brothel, and that living on the earnings of prostitution does not apply to the prostitute themselves.
Public order offences are also used against sex workers.
A number of prominent groups have called for the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution. In 2008, the Legal Assistance Centre, a Windhoek-based non-profit human rights organisation, called for the decriminalization of prostitution as a means of cutting the country's high HIV-AIDS rate as well as a means for maintaining the human rights of the prostitute themselves. Rights not Rescue, a sex workers organisation is amongst those calling for decriminalisation.
Many groups in Namibia actively oppose legalization and instead focus on providing skills to former sex workers. Some groups approach the issue from a religious perspective, arguing that Namibia's population is overwhelmingly Christian and therefore should not accept what they consider an immoral profession.
HIV/AIDS in Namibia is a critical public health issue. The prevalence of HIV in Namibia is among the highest in the world. Since 1996, HIV has been the leading cause of death in the country. Sex workers are a high risk group. Some sources put the HIV prevalence amongst sex workers as high as 70%. Reluctance to use condoms, lack of sexual health education and limited access to healthcare are cited as contributory factors.
Namibia is a source and destination country for children, and to a lesser extent women, subjected to sex trafficking. Namibian children are subjected to sex trafficking in Windhoek and Walvis Bay. A 2015 media report alleged foreign sex tourists from southern Africa and Europe exploit child sex trafficking victims. In 2014, an NGO reported persons in prostitution, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, were taken aboard foreign vessels off the Namibian coast. Children from less affluent neighbouring countries may be subjected to sex trafficking.
The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Namibia as a Tier 2 country.
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