With funding from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), the Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) is implementing the ‘Protecting Sex Workers from Police Abuse’ project, whose goal is to eradicate abuse of sex workers by the police in Blantyre.
The Malawi Penal Code contains the so-called vagrancy laws, which various studies have condemned for targeting the poor without delivering justice or upholding law and order. Pertinent to this project are Section 180 which targets idle and disorderly persons and Section 184 which criminalises rogues and vagabonds.
These laws are used especially during so-called sweeping exercises when the police round up suspected criminals and other people, especially those deemed to be loitering in public places, such as bars, usually at night.
An observation made against the two sections is they the police arbitrarily apply them to arrest people who can authoritatively be classified as neither idle and disorderly nor rogue and vagabonds.
Particularly vulnerable to these laws are sex workers whom police routinely pick off the streets, in bars or lodges and arrest them. Most of the sex workers rarely get charged, let alone tried, largely because the police harass them by demanding money or sexually abuse them as a condition for being let off the hook.
Purpose of the Project
- Reduce human rights violations perpetrated against sex workers;
- Monitor, seek redress for and/or report on human rights violations, including supporting victims of human rights abuses;
- Train sex workers as paralegals and have one as an intern, who shall be instrumental
- in raising human rights awareness and empowerment to other sex workers;
- Train sex workers on human rights and the laws relating to arrests;
- Promote observance and implementation of international human rights standards in relation to sex workers through working with the police, monitoring their work and training;
- Limit the use of criminal laws relating to rogues and vagabonds and sex work-related offences
- against sex workers through training of sex workers and the police so that the enforcement of the
- laws are limited to cases where there is real exploitation or serious nuisances.
- Raise awareness among members of the communities in the targeted areas of the need to protect sex workers from abuse.
In implementing the project, CHREAA undertook several activities in Malawi and abroad.
The organisation took a study tour to South Africa and Zimbambwe where it engaged SISONKE and Women Legal Center, and Katswe Sistahood to learnt how the two entities are implementing similar projects on protecting sex workers from police abuse.
Locally, CHREAA has also been working with Pakachere IHD on various activities. For example, sex workers from Pakachere attended awareness meetings which CHREAA conducted. Similarly, a paralegal sex worker, whom CHREAA recruited, has been working with Pakachere on different meetings.
The paralegal sex worker spreads the word through awareness campaigns in bars where she is familiar with owners and other sex workers.
CHREAA also works with the police through trainings and sensitiozation meetings. For example, CHREAA conducted a two-day training of trainers of police where police instructors were informed about the rights of sex workers. The aim of the training was to draw focus to the trainers on the rights of sex workers to ensure that police officers being commissioned into the country are fully aware of them. Aside from group discussions, the training workshop was interactive in nature where, after facilitators made presentations on a topic, participants commented and asked questions. Further to the training,
CHREAA’s paralegal officers screen sex workers in Police stations, prisons and courts around Blantyre.
CHREAA also has toll free helplines on Airtel and TNM in order to extend the number of sex workers and other people who access the organisation’s assistance and advice on human rights, including sex workers’ rights.
Through awareness meetings CHREAA conducted, an immediate outcome of the project is that sex workers are now appraised of their rights, the law related to the offences they get arrested for and they are able to demand their rights or seek redress where their rights have been violated by the police. CHREAA believes the knowledge that has been imparted to the sex workers has a long-lasting effect on them such that even after the project comes to an end, they will still be able to claim their rights using that knowledge they have acquired.