The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Sept. 23) - Once again, the legality of prostitution is exercising the minds and consciences of Parliament.

A well-regarded medical doctor who is also a member of the House has pointed out the wildfire spread of prostitution throughout the nation, and noted that workers are of both sexes and of all ages and social backgrounds.

Prostitution existed in this country long before the arrival of foreigners, but liberal western moral values have contributed to its accelerating growth.

And the present parlous economic condition of most of our people provides further impetus to an expanding sex industry.

Some weep with passion for our lost innocence.

Others thunder verses from the Bible, and insist upon the moral depravity of prostitution, homosexuality, lesbianism, drug addiction and a host of other alleged perversions.

Still others believe that the future is already here, and the most Papua New Guineans can do is to learn to live with it, ensuring that children and other vulnerable members of society are not targeted by the new morality.

Calls are again being made for the legalization of prostitution.

It is no longer enough to turn one's face to the wall and ignore the subject.

HIV/AIDS has forever changed the way prostitution is viewed throughout the world.

Forty years ago it would have been unthinkable had anyone suggested that Australia might one day host legal brothels, or that they would be sold by real estate agents in the same way as any other business.

Today, nobody so much as raises an eyebrow at the brothels or the price at which they change hands.

Many believe that a prostitution industry controlled by the State is the best answer.

Certainly prostitutes can be regularly monitored for communicable diseases, the use of condoms can be insisted upon, and a high level of hygiene maintained.

The State can also profit from the industry through taxes, while registration of sex workers would allow the monitoring of numbers and where such workers ply their trade.

Prostitutes would be freed of the growing evils of the pimp who takes most of their profits, and frequently inflicts violence upon his or her workers.

The churches will naturally unite over this issue as over no other, and few would expect otherwise.

But PNG is a secular, and not a religious society.

Objectively, those who strenuously oppose prostitution should continue to avoid prostitutes, and influence their family and friends to do likewise.

But outside the existing laws, our Constitution gives them no authority to impose their views upon others.

Doubtless many will be shocked to learn that to be either a homosexual or a lesbian is not illegal in PNG.

Indeed, it would be hard to defend laws outlawing such persons in the light of PNG's 28 years of membership of the United Nations, which specifically bans discrimination of any kind on the basis of sexual preference.

It is possible that the writers of many of the dreadfully misinformed diatribes that have appeared in print recently could be prosecuted under existing PNG anti-discriminatory laws.

It is the practice of homosexuality and lesbianism and prostitution that is presently against the PNG law. 

If there is a majority that seeks to change the laws, then by all means change them. 

Turn PNG into a church state, although we suspect the problem of which church to follow among this country's diversity of religions, sects, schismatic groups, associations, assemblies and the like might well prove insoluble.

The point is that there is every reason for our community to calmly and logically sit down and debate these issues so that an outcome can be reached that is acceptable to the majority.

The kind of hyper-emotional outbursts that have characterized debate on moral issues in recent weeks are to be deplored.

They have predictable and unhelpful effects.

Those who are cemented into their opinions become even more solidified, and refuse to listen to alternatives.

And those who seek a liberalization of existing legislation justify their moves on the basis of the rigid inflexibility of those who do not, rather than advancing convincing evidence to back their cause.

There should be a lively and informed national debate on prostitution, and it should involve a cross-section of the whole community.

September 23, 2003

The National: www.thenational.com.pg/


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