SWWS: Law on prostitution should be amended to punish clients

Margaret Bedus

By Nancy Nais

KUCHING, Oct 15: The Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) is calling on the government to amend the law on prostitution.

The society’s president Margaret Bedus said the current Section 372B of the Penal Code must also include punishment for the clients who solicit sex.

Section 372B of the Penal Code stated that ‘whoever solicits or importunes for the purpose of prostitution or any immoral purpose in any place shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or with fine or with both’.

A woman in Sibu recently pleaded guilty to a charge of prostitution while her male client got off scot-free, and this, Margaret pointed out, was a very concerning case.

“Prostitution only exists if there is a client prepared to pay a fee for a service he wants yet it is the woman who is penalised. If there are no clients then there is no prostitution. So why is it that only the woman was penalised?

“In this case, not only was the woman being penalised, her identity was also exposed whereas the man and his identity was not mentioned in court nor in the press. This is despite the fact that when the police raided the hotel the man was found with the woman,” she revealed.

Calling it unfair, Margaret lamented that this is how the law stands.

“Nowhere in this Section 372B or other sections of the Penal Code, where the man buying the service is criminalised,” she highlighted in a statement, adding that it can and should be changed.

Margaret also pointed that Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (Cedaw) which means there is a legal requirement to align domestic laws to achieve this aim.

“Cedaw’s committee notes that poverty and unemployment can force many women into prostitution, while broken homes and childhood abuse may also drive women into prostitution.

“In the Sibu case, the woman only had RM70 with her which was presumed to have come from the encounter. Her fine for prostitution was RM3,000 in default two months’ jail and she was further fined RM1,300 in default one month’s jail. Although she had a local sounding name, she was unable to present her Malaysian identification card (IC),” she added.

Such lack of documentation is not uncommon for Sarawakians, Margaret highlighted, and the lack of an IC means many were forced into the informal economy.

Margaret also pointed that for a woman with just a few ringgit on her, it is unlikely she would be able to pay the RM4,300 fine and is probably in jail now.

“Therefore, it is of our opinion that Section 372B of the Penal Code is biased in nature and violates the equal protection clause under Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution which provides that ‘All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law’.

“Equal protection of law means that all persons similarly situated would be applied the same law alike without discrimination. Section 372B of the Penal Code only punishes one side of the party that is the women as it is only the women who would be deemed to solicits or importunes for the purpose of prostitution,” she explained.

Margaret added that SWWS strongly calls for the existing Section 372B of the Penal Code to be amended, by including the men offering the hire for the sexual act as this would not only be non-discriminatory but could be an effective measure to curb prostitution. — DayakDaily