Navigating the criminalisation-decriminalisation dilemma in sex work: an analysis of its affects on human rights and proposals for their safeguard

Thesis / Dissertation


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
This dissertation will examine how certain legal systems deal with both sex workers and those involved in the sex trade. It will demonstrate that several legal systems have failed to achieve their intended goals of protecting the rights of ‘everyone' and to establish a method to effectively address sex work. The ongoing debate surrounding sex work is mostly centred on whether it can be considered as a legal form of labour or whether it is born out of gender inequity. The anti-sex work human rights supporters believe that women enter the industry primarily as a result of poor socioeconomic circumstances or compulsion, while the pro-sex work human rights supporters believe that sex workers should be considered victims because of the prejudices they suffer. Sex workers face numerous obstacles, therefore, an adequate legislative framework to address these concerns is vital. The present international and local legal frameworks should prioritise the vulnerability of sex workers, and governments must intervene to adopt legislation that improves their lives. Sex workers have traditionally been stigmatised and marginalised, making it difficult for them to campaign for reforms in sex work laws and regulations, or for their concerns to be taken seriously. The recognition of women's right to equality as an enforceable fundamental right may be attested due to the presence of internationally recognised human rights frameworks. This exclusion acknowledges that the majority of sex work victims are women and young girls. However, it might be claimed that the various legal frameworks compel states to adopt measures aimed at protecting women against sexual exploitation, and that they should be gender-neutral in construction and consistent with the protection of sex workers' human rights. Even though gender inequity and prejudice are factors that impact a woman's choice to enter and work in the sex industry, criminalising these women for those decisions adversely affects their human rights. There are significant human rights distinctions between criminalisation, which has the aim of entirely abolishing sex work, and decriminalisation, which seeks to fully realise the human rights of sex workers. Criminalisation falls significantly short of addressing these human rights concerns, whereas decriminalisation will provide a solution to gradually fade the current stigma that sex workers face, reducing their vulnerability to violence and abuse.