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EDITORIAL COMMENT Fiji Times January 18, 2000

Prostitution, as Law Reform Commissioner Justice Gates has already observed, has been with us since biblical times.

It might be seen as an unfortunate gauge of the oldest profession's durability, given the fact that the churches are implacably opposed to its decriminalization, but its accuracy cannot be denied.

Women and men become prostitutes for a range of reasons but most obviously they do it for money.

That means there must be a willing buyer and a willing seller for the trade to take place.

That both exist in generous numbers would be very clear to any casual observer strolling the streets of our towns and cities after nightfall.

And they will not easily go away.

For if a mandatory jail term has utterly failed to even slow the drug trade, the imposition of fines or harsher penalties on prostitutes can hardly be expected to reduce their activities.

Fortunately, Fiji so far appears to have escaped the deadly curse of drug-related prostitution where men and women are obliged to sell their bodies to support a drug habit.

But it can't be far away.

Prostitution has always been a problem for society and probably always will be.

But our approach to that problem has so far been based on hypocrisy tinged with futility.

On the one hand we condemn the supplier of this service -- usually a woman -- while turning a blind eye to the accomplice in this crime, almost always a man.

Should we then deem the clients of prostitutes to be as guilty as the prostitutes themselves?

It would certainly give a great number of people pause for thought.

But it would also have the effect of driving the industry -- for that's what it is -- further underground, creating huge opportunities for organized crime and gangs in general.

At the same time society is certainly not ready to allow this business to step out of the shadows.

But we certainly can establish ground rules as the commission apparently seeks to do.

Decriminalizing an activity does not automatically make it legal. It can, for instance, remain subject to controls and regulations.

But we can't afford to be squeamish about this.

If we face the problem openly and honestly and avoid the pitfalls of indoctrinated attitudes, we might just arrive at a set of rules we can all live with if not completely accept.

One thing is certain.

No laws or punishments will make prostitution go away.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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