21 November, 2018

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Sri Lanka: Sex Work Should Be Decriminalized

By Christopher Rezel

Christopher Rezel

Christopher Rezel

It’s time for Sri Lanka to decriminalize sex work or validate it in some manner in order to manage what is a decades-old reality.

Bringing prostitution within the bounds of legality will curb the spread of sexual diseases, including AIDS, and remove barriers that drive away social workers from providing these vulnerable men and women medical and counselling assistance.

It will eliminate underground criminal elements that now operate brothels and derive the most financial benefit, besides stop exploitation of the desperate and helpless involved in the trade.

In our attitude towards these and other less fortunate individuals in society, we must be guided by the Buddhist ideal of compassion.

Sri Lankan is a country of high literacy and the above observations would be self-evident. But there is a tendency in most of us to surrender our rights on ethical issues to the various religions that seek to monopolise them.

Media reports of occasional brothel raids in poorer neighbourhoods may grab public interest but has done little to stop an industry that is resilient and widespread. Police raids are scarce at the top end of town, on star-class hotels and other exclusive venues, where city-savvy prostitutes transact encounters.

sexyIn this regard, it would be naive to promote tourism and think that single male and female visitors spend their dollars on merely experiencing beaches, landscapes and archaeological artefacts. The reality is that after dark they seek out physical excitement and fulfilment in bars, pubs and clubs, such as they would normally do at home.

Police harassment of sex workers must only put greater burdens on the lives of men and women forced into the trade, mostly because of a lack of alternative employment or a social security network. In many instances, desperation and the need to provide for children would drive divorced or widowed women to the easy option of sex work. That reasoning should go for the thousands of child-burdened war widows, especially in the north and east, who have suddenly become breadwinners without education or employable skills.

If their lives are to be turned around, those women must be provided with education and skills. Subjecting them to the trauma of abuse and humiliation through arrest, production before a judge, fining and then releasing, is never a solution.

Police and judicial resources are better directed at major crime areas swamping Sri Lanka, such as homicides, armed robberies, illicit drugs and alcohol, gangs and associated illegal trades. These and other areas of dangerous and violent criminality bear little comparison with someone providing sexual services, at most a benign trade. In addition, sexual crime is bound to increase exponentially if brothels were to be eliminated.

Sharmila Seyyid

The topic naturally brings to mind journalist Sharmila Seyyid and her call for sex work to be legalized and its providers protected (Colombo Telegraph, April 27, 2015. Protect Sri Lankan Muslim Journalist Sharmila Seyyid Who Supports Sex Workers’ Rights: Muslim Civil Society.) Sharmila’s call has led to a local Taliban element taking it upon themselves to “punish” her and her family, the usual reaction of men in patriarchal societies who hold fast to the view that their power over a woman’s body should never be challenged.

We must recognise that Islam is one of the world’s great religions and it is unfortunate that a few extremist give it a bad name by interpreting sacred text to suit their own twisted agendas. Such reprehensible activities are now helped by social media through which anonymous cowards can stir up those segments of society who are impressionable and like buffalos, look to a leader.

The authorities should stamp down hard on such deviants. Otherwise, the Taliban disease may expand here too and give rise to a plague of self-styled and scheming pseudo imams who victimise innocent citizen under the guise of protecting Islam. We do not want such loathsome instances, as has happened in Pakistan, where a young girl, Rimsha Masih, was arrested for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran, a charge punishable by death in that country, and subsequently the man who had brought about the charge, imam, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti, being arrested for desecrating the Quran himself and planting the pages in Rimsha’s bag.

Rimsha too, like Sharmila, has been forced into exile in a foreign land because of death threats.

Double standards

It is unfortunate that in Sri Lanka, as with most Asian countries, sex is a taboo subject. But it would be delusional to imagine that all Sri Lankan adults are asexual until marriage, except for that percentage coerced by religious or moral reasons, or because of physical or psychological failing that need remedial intervention.

However, it wouldn’t be far wrong in stating that most Sri Lankan males practise double standards and subterfuge when it comes to sex. We are all virgins and insist on our marriage partners being untouched as well.

In this regard, it would be interesting to know the number of Sri Lankans who own computers and access sex sites, keeping in mind that even lusting is sex, in a cerebral way. (Of course, we would all say we were only being curious.)

Belief hurdles

Religious barricades must be overcome if Sri Lanka is to decriminalize the sex industry. The paradox is the uncertainty of whether the country is a secular state, where there is distance between organised religion and the nation state, or a theocratic one, like Iran, where all important decisions must have clerical approval.

Buddhist, Christian and Islamic clergy (stated in alphabetic order) have always had a say in the nation’s political life, frequently with bloody effect. Policy-makers in turn exploit politicized clergy, aware of its ability to influence voters.

That is part of Sri Lanka’s tragedy. But in this, the 21st century, it may be time to bring about a clear separation of church and state. Clerical meddling in civil matters must be stopped. It is an area lawmakers are voted in to oversee. Mixing religion with a nation’s legal base is bound to cause strife between peoples, as it has devastatingly proved repeatedly.

After all, the clergy is also made up of fallible men and women and their weaknesses are universal. In Europe and Australia, where sex has been an open subject, the systemic sexual molestations or physical assaults conducted in religious institutions over the years has been under scrutiny and public discussion. Such openness may take yet more years to arrive in Sri Lanka and the rest of conservative Asia. But it may be time to stop suffering alone or, alternatively, laughing behind our hands at passed-on secrets. Instead, social taboos must be stamped out and conditions created for victims to come forward. Frank and open discussions are the only way to heal.

Smile awhile

Let me end with an episode that may bring on a smile. My initial sex-related article, written in the early eighties, never got into print. At that time, I was a reporter on the Ceylon Daily News and my daily rounds brought me in contact with a specialist in venereal disease. He took me to the government clinic down De Saram Place, Colombo 10, and provided me with statistics and reports on the spread of VD, particularly the difficult to treat syphilis. His concern was that sexually transmitted disease was spreading wild and going untreated because of a lack of public information. Back at office, I wrote my report and submitted it to the news editor. Sometime later, the political stooge designated deputy editor, who never wrote and published a line, called me up and before spiking my story, told me to refrain from writing indecent reports because “ours is a family paper”.

It is my hope that Sri Lanka has left such backwardness behind.

It is also my hope that this article will promote further public discussion on sexual workers and their sad plight.

*Christopher Rezel, Australia. Writer and journalist; formerly a reporter on the Ceylon Daily News.

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Latest comments

  • 18
    21

    Christopher Rezel has espoused the cause well, but I fear that his plaintive call for our liberalisation here of the working of the oldest profession known to man is premature. I am afraid that the entrenched traditions of several centuries are still deeply embedded in the psyche of ALL our indigenous races, and weaning them off it will take many decades. The growing use of the internet, tourism and the insatiable quest of man and woman will speed progress towards that day, but don’t hold your breath just yet.

    Meanwhile, can should try and eradicate the ‘prostitution’ that goes on in that whorehouse on the Diyawanne. For some time now there has been a hardcore of fuckers, elected and unelected, eager to bend over to please the party in power in order to secure one perk or another. These are the real present day whores that give our politics a bad name. At the moment they are an infestation.

    • 9
      15

      Dear Mr Rezel, when I told this story to our Uncle Mervyn, he hurriedly downed his shot, and burst out singing.
      (with acknowledgements and apologies to all who sung this before)

      WOE IS ME
      Shame and scandal in the family
      Woe is me
      Shame and scandal in the family

      In Kandy there was a family
      With much confusion as you will see
      It was a mama and a papa and a boy who was grown
      He wanted to marry, have a wife of his own
      Found a young girl that suited him nice
      Went to his papa to ask his advice
      His papa said: “Son, I have to say no,
      This girl is your sister, but your mama don’t know”

      Oh, woe is me…….Shame and scandal in the family

      Some time went by and Christmas came ’round
      Soon the best cook in the island he found
      He went to his papa to name the day
      His papa shook his head and to him did say
      “You Can’t marry this girl, I have to say no
      This girl is your sister, but your mama don’t know”

      Oh, woe is me…Shame and scandal in the family
      Oh, woe is me…Shame and scandal in the family

      He went to his mama and covered his head
      And told his mama what his papa had said
      His mama she laughed, she say, “Go man, go
      Your daddy ain’t your daddy, but your daddy don’t know.”

      Oh, woe is me…Shame and scandal in the family
      Oh, woe is me…Shame and scandal in the family

    • 14
      5

      How true Mr Rezel.Why pay Dayan money for that which he provides free of charge.

  • 15
    20

    Christopher Rezel,

    RE: Sri Lanka: Sex Work Should Be Decriminalized

    “Sharmila Seyyid”

    “The topic naturally brings to mind journalist Sharmila Seyyid and her call for sex work to be legalized and its providers protected (Colombo Telegraph, April 27, 2015. Protect Sri Lankan Muslim Journalist Sharmila Seyyid Who Supports Sex Workers’ Rights: Muslim Civil Society.) Sharmila’s call has led to a local Taliban element taking it upon themselves to “punish” her and her family, the usual reaction of men in patriarchal societies who hold fast to the view that their power over a woman’s body should never be challenged.”

    These cover multiple issues.

    1. It is the Responsibility of the State to Provide economic Opportunities. The State has mostly failed that.

    2. In order to make a living and make ends meet, these women have go into the worlds oldest profession, because of demand for such services.

    3. Some women have gone to the Middle East as domestics, a much more honorable profession than being a sex worker, in most societies.

    4. Most religions, abhor sex workers. Islam is no different.

    5. If sex work is legalized, any women or man can be sex worker. What will happen to the morality of the family, and society?

    6. What are the licensing requirements to being a sex worker? What would it take to maintain the license? Monthly check ups?

    Sex licensing is an indication of the decadence of a society.

    .

    • 14
      8

      Christopher Rezel,
      RE: Sri Lanka: Sex Work Should Be Decriminalized
      “Sharmila Seyyid”

      “We must recognise that Islam is one of the world’s great religions and it is unfortunate that a few extremist give it a bad name by interpreting sacred text to suit their own twisted agendas. Such reprehensible activities are now helped by social media through which anonymous cowards can stir up those segments of society who are impressionable and like buffalos, look to a leader.”

      But the the so-called Fundamentalists are actually following Iblis, Shaitan, Devil,Satan and twisting Islam so that Muslims will not follow Allah, and will follow Inlis. Inlus, Shaitan has a grudge against Allah, and wants to con and mislead the Muslims. Many of them have fallen into this trap, like many Sri Lankans fell into the Mahinda Rajapaksa Mara Dictatorship trap.

      Allah, warned over 25 times about the tricks and deceptions of Iblis, Shaitan, in the Holy Quran. There is also a Hadith by Prophet Mohamed, Hadith of Najad.

      Wahhabis and their clones, ISIS, ISIL, Taliban, Deobandi, Boko Haram and others are the worst Offenders of Islamic Teachings. They Follow IBLIS, Satan, Shaitan, and the Wahhabi Virus has infected the Muslim Community.

      Examples are many. a Selected Few Scholar from al-Azhar: Wahhabism is a Satanic Faith, the Horn of the Devil that Muhammad Predicted

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufxTUFapy1w

      Hadith of Najd
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadith_of_Najd

      Location of Najd . Where Else? Wahhabi saudi arabia, where the Iblis, Shaitan Originated as given in the Hadith, above.

  • 21
    12

    Legalize and regulate!!! If a Muslim country like Bangladesh could do it, why cant we??

    This will help educate the women
    keep them safe from illness
    Regularly test them
    Most importantly, give them the strength to go to the police when they have been abused.

    Lets drag our Country into the 21st century kicking and screaming!!!

  • 7
    20

    No Muslim has the right to suit their whims and fancies. Islam is quite clear in the issue of prostitution. It is totally prohibited and we have no right to question it. It is God’s law and neither fundamentalists, extremists or moderates you may term have a right to twist God’s law and Christopher please do not make vague interpretations.

    • 13
      9

      God’s law?

      The ISIS is implementing your God’s law in the areas they control. That’s what you want in Sri Lanka too, I presume from your argument. We are not living in the stone age, my friend. Move with the times and adapt your religion according to the changes to benefit all.

    • 15
      6

      Badur

      “It is God’s law and neither fundamentalists, extremists or moderates you may term have a right to twist God’s law “

      But the the so=called Fundamentalists are actually following Iblis, Shaitan, Devil,Satan and twisting Islam so that Mislims will not follow Allah, and will follow Inlis. Inlus, Shaitan has a grudge against Allah, and wants to con and mislead the Muslims. Many of them have fallen into this trap, like many Sri Lankans fell into the Mahinda Rarajapaksa Mara Dictatorship trap.

      Allah, warned over 25 times about the tricks and deceptions of Iblis, Shaitan, in the Holy Quran. There is also a Hadith by Prophet Mohamed, Hadith of Najad.

      Wahhabis and their clones, ISIS, ISIL, Taliban, Deobandi, Boko Haram and others are the worst Offenders of Islamic Teachings. They Follow IBLIS, Satan, Shaitan, and the Wahhabi Virus has infected the Muslim Community.

      Examples are many. a Selected Few

      Scholar from al-Azhar: Wahhabism is a Satanic Faith, the Horn of the Devil that Muhammad Predicted

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufxTUFapy1w

      Hadith of Najd

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadith_of_Najd

      Location of Najd

      The apparent meaning of ‘najd’ indicates a raised area, it is regarded that there are up to 13 various locations in the region regarded as ‘najd’.[9] Various misconceptions have arisen with regard to the ‘hadith of Najd’ due to the modern day named area of Najd in Saudi Arabia. Historically the location has been accounted as being between the borders of Iraq and modern day Saudi Arabia. This is in accordance to “Najd Qarnu ash-Shaytaan” the definition of Najd depends on one’s own location, and from Madina, Najd would be Iraq. The area is indicated by various scholars of hadith as to be in accordance with this.

    • 9
      11

      I accept your position. So let us have licenced brothels and sex workers for the Buddhists, Christians and Hindus only where the clients and those who render the services are non-Muslims.

      Will you object to that?

    • 8
      9

      My dear Badur – you may be right theoretically, but oh how wrong you are in practice! I have witnessed most venerable Muslims doing most unvenerable things with ladies and young men – so, I am sorry, but Rezel is damn right!

    • 5
      3

      Badur, the God’s Law you talk so proudly of is the same law that kills girls for demanding an education, stone to death women who get raped, and advocate the ubiquitous Shariah Laws that gives more rights to your furniture than your women and girls. On the matter of legalising sex work, where it has been done, sex work is seen as a service and they have seen a reduction in sexually transmitted diseases, rapes and abductions, pimps exploiting women and more. Badur, it is time this medieval ignorance and a belief in a ludicrous God’s Law is abandoned and Muslims join the 21st century.

  • 13
    11

    A very good suggestion Its time that we link in this direction

  • 14
    9

    Agreed.

    Unfortunately ours is a country which has a Bo tree at every junction and has the highest suicide rates and alcohol consumption rates in the world.

    So legalization may not happen because we are scared of reality.

  • 8
    6

    What will the legalization of prostitution change?

    Hello machan what is your wife doing?
    She is a prostitute machan!
    No. It will not happen my dear boy.

    The headmaster asks you what is your wife’s occupation
    Prostitute!
    Not going to happen my boy.

    Pappa I am going to marry Dulcinea.
    What is she doing?
    She is a prostitute.
    Not going to work my boy.

    Even the cops will not accept sex as Kappan.
    They want cash it seems.

    • 9
      5

      Crazyoldmansl

      “What will the legalization of prostitution change?”

      It will take the business from the hand to the prostitute, increase the costs to the Johns, spread venereal diseases, increase health care costs to the society,lower the dignity of women, and they will be looked down as prostitutes, instead of being looked up as mothers, wives and sisters.

      Do you want your mother, wife or sister to be a prostitute? No!

  • 5
    10

    The world got enough problems to be solved instead of worrying about solving the problems of prostitution. I am sure, these are least of Sri Lankans worries than be obssessed by vulgarity.

  • 11
    8

    All commodities need a ready market.
    Sexual Gratification has a ready market in any society.
    Those denied it by social customs indulge in self-gratification a.k.a masturbation.
    Virginity is common to females and males, many of whom readily lose it when an opportunity presents itself – “morality” is mainly due to lack of opportunity for sex gratification outside the constraints of social customs – which vary in different human societies.
    The fundamental urge of all living beings are preservation of life, and reproduction of life.
    Sexual gratification is essential for procreation a.k.a reproduction.

    In many other, especially western countries, the market for Sexual Gratification is regularised and controlled by the state.
    In England, prostitutes have to pay income tax – likewise too in many European countries.

    The sex trade should be allowed and regulated by the state.

  • 7
    6

    If I were the President of Sri Lanka I would declare prostitution an essential service. No strikes by sex workers will be tolerated and if they do, they will be sentenced to jail terms!

    30 days minimum for the first offence.

    • 5
      6

      muniyandy
      “declare prostitution an essential service.”

      Since there are so many in the estate sector like you,maybe we should declare it an emergency service,otherwise our no 1 export might get affected.Already i think it is.

      another thing basil could have done under his divineguma is to distribute free plastic women instead of vegetable seeds that put the farmers out of business.Just imagine muniyandy,you are on top of a blonde blue eyed beauty taking your own cool time instead of that crochety estate woman shouting “surruka seyyuda,enaku velai irrukku”(finish soon.i have work.)

  • 4
    2

    Dear Christo,

    We got the guys together and tried drafting an act. As you can see we got stuck trying to define who is the receiver and who the provider. Their may also be a vendor or supplier involved. We used to call them pimps and traffickers. Anyway you can take what we have come up with so far and sit down with the legal draftspersons and see if you can work something out,

    THE PROVISION OF SEXUAL SERVICES ACT NO 1 OF JUNE 15TH 2015

    Whereas it is increasingly evident that the institutional framework of the family as it now consists has consistently failed to provide the variety and frequency in reproductive behavior demanded by the constant stimulation of the reproductive system of the species in order to motivate persistent frenzied economic activity in pursuit of psycho physiological Detumescence,
    And whereas it is observed that this frenzied pursuit of detumescence has led to an irrational increase in the population that threatens the well being of the species as well as its environment,
    And whereas it is observed that this frenzied pursuit of detumescence facilitates the rapid spread of sexually transmitted diseases,
    And whereas it is observed that persons wishing to engage in reproductive behavior in order to achieve detumescence are forced to enter into matrimonial contracts which are expensive, unsatisfying, often oppressive and increasingly lead to divorce;
    The government has on this 15th day of the month of June in the year 2015 made lawful the provision of sexual services and the provision of such sexual services shall be governed by the act as set out below and it shall be unlawful for any person, parent, spouse, employer, police officer or any government officer to prevent consenting persons over the age of 18 years of age from engaging in reproductive behavior with any other person of choice with each others consent.
    The act shall be known as The Provision of Sexual Services Act No 1 of 15th June 2015
    1: This act shall recognize that the provision of sexual services requires two persons who are described as the service provider and the service receiver.
    2: The act provides for the service provider to receive a fee for services provided from the service receiver.
    3: However the act recognizes that due to the nature of reproductive behavior the service provider is also in many instances a receiver of service as well and as such is entitled to fees for services provided.
    4: The act sets out the following schedule in order to define the receiver and the provider:

  • 1
    2

    I would agree to the idea. The issue is that it would worsen the spread of venereal diseases.

  • 9
    4

    yes the author has a valid point

    on a lighter note if brothels were legalised then Rajpal Abeynayake wont risk the chance of losing his wallets in far away bordellos in the Swiss alps and it will also have customers in the form of K A Sumanasekera !(provided the call girls are vellalas of course hahahahahaah)

  • 3
    6

    No any religion allowed people to have comfortable intercourse out of marriage,our state rules follows such. The concept of decriminalization is good for sexual workers and sex customers. We must struggle forward to legalize the move in future.

  • 5
    6

    i suggest we look at japan which has a compromise system which keeps the males happy,but not too happy and other problems associated with prostitution under control.Compromise is the best way to go in many situations,where nobody is totally happy,but nobody is totally unhappy.

  • 4
    9

    We should have just a cuddle industry.Just sit there and gaze into each others eyes.You get a insight into the female’s psyche by asking questions which the wham and bam stuff will never give you.people like above commentator muniyandy may not like it at first,but will help to discipline him in the sexual dept as time goes on.

    http://www.vice.com/video/the-japanese-love-industry

    legalise a cuddle industry first and then see how it goes and slowly every five years upgrade it little by little after monitoring the consequences.Nothing wrong with gazing into each others eyes.

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