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Decrees could drive sex workers underground

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, March 24, 2010) - Provisions in Fiji’s new Crimes Decree 2010 relating to prostitution could drive sex workers towards unprotected sex and hinder efforts towards HIV transparency, according to a United Nations HIV advocate.

Stuart Watson, the coordinator of the UNAIDS Pacific Office, said regardless of laws and legislation, sex workers cannot be completely removed from the streets.

Effective February 2010, the Crimes Decree makes prostitution illegal giving police the right to arrest and charge people who operate as sex workers.

"What the decree will do is keep sex workers from accessing prevention services, education resources that is needed to protect them, their clients and the clients’ families along with the community," Watson said.

Watson further stated this becomes a factor that simply makes it harder for all advocates of HIV to respond to it and establish that we live in a society that respects the rights of all individuals.

"Rather than introducing laws criminalizing HIV exposure and transmission, legislators must reform laws that stand in the way of HIV prevention," he said.

He added that despite the fact that Fiji has established this law, it threatens the rights and responses to HIV that empower people to avoid infection and live successfully with HIV.

Watson was speaking while launching a report titled ‘Risky Business; Sex Work and HIV Prevention in Fiji’.

Report author Karen McMillan said the report is based on personal stories of 40 different sex workers from Labasa, Lautoka, Nadi and Suva,

"Gathering it required participation and contribution from sex workers who were prepared to reveal their personal often very painful details of their lives," she said.

"If everyone in Fiji were as open and aware, prevention would be a much easier task."

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