Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | HIV advocates have condemned the continued harassment of sex workers especially by police officers under the guise of enforcing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) against Covid-19 to defraud them of their money.
Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Macklean Kyomya, the Executive Director at Alliance of Women Advocating for Change (AWAC), an organization that advocates for rights of key populations, said that they have recorded complaints of officers breaking into hotel rooms and arresting sex workers while threatening them to pay bribes.
She says that during the recent police raid on a guest house in Rubaga division, the sex workers claim to have paid not less than Shillings 100,000 for their freedom.
Calling on the President not to assent to the controversial Sexual Offenses Bill that was approved by parliament in May, Kyomya said the police are already warming up for its operationalization since it criminalizes sex work.
According to Kyomya, they have rescued nine sex workers who were being held in custody and they reported majority of their colleagues to have paid their way out of detention.
While the curfew that starts at 7pm has pushed sex workers off the street, another activist Richard Lusimbo says the women have found themselves in a hard place without food yet they are not considered among the needy to receive the Shillings 100,000 COVID-19 cash relief from the government.
He pushes for inclusiveness of key populations in programming such as sex workers, prisoners and injection drug users among others whose needs should be prioritized since already some national policies and programmes like the National HIV and AIDS strategic plan have recognized them.
But Dr. Daniel Byamukama who heads the HIV Prevention at the Uganda AIDS Commission says this is hard at the moment given the societal prejudices, especially the call to repeal laws criminalizing sexual activity and sex work.
He however notes that the commission is set to conduct a legal environment assessment. In this exercise, he says even the sexual offenses bill, which is not yet assented to will be evaluated. He says the consultants will among others ask communities and other stakeholders their view about the legal regime in relation to the HIV/AIDS response.
The report from this assessment will then act as a guide or reference book for MPs when legislating such issues as human rights and HIV.