Friday, March 23, 2007

Kagame; Think Hard Before You Commence Legislating Morality

8 March, 2007 was the International Women’s Day, a day where we all commemorate the achievements of women in all aspects of life and where the rhetoric of the emancipation of women is celebrated.

On this day in Kigali, the Rwandese President General Paul Kagame chose to officially join forces with the ever vocal group that seeks criminalization of prostitution under the belief that this trade has no intrinsic value attached to it and that the advantages of its eradication through indiscriminate enforcement of the criminal law are undeniable.

I agree with the value concept of this school of thought because to me prostitution is something I abhor and distaste. However, despite my beliefs, I concur with the notion that prostitution should only be branded as immoral just like alcohol consumption, but not as a criminal act.

Kagame’s assertion that “the legal arm of this land should take immediate action and sweep our streets of the prostitutes” worries me, because not only does this directive sweep the causes under the carpet, it is also a bold attempt by the executive body to initiate passing laws whose primary concern is morality and not civil value. Laws whose primary objective is civil are intended to ensure the safety and indeed order of all residents of the country and also ensure other values that uphold freedoms, liberty et al.

I believe that generalizing all immoral things as illegal is fundamentally wrong and self defeating. Take for instance the Christians’ stand on worshipping other gods other than the biblical God; it is considered as immoral, despicable and punishable by everlasting condemnation and yet the right to exercise preference in worship is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and indeed the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 by the General Assembly. In my opinion, the state can not prohibit any individual’s liberty in social interactions, most especially where the parties in question are two consenting adults.

Mr. Kagame was right when he observed that “Prostitution is a clear and explicit reflection of moral decay, the erosion of moral values and the collective failure of the family institution in carrying out the responsibility of getting the young internalize and measure up to societal expectations.” But fails to recognize that moral decay is considered an outright sign of government’s mismanagement 'kubanga' prostitution is one of many evils taken to symbolize collapse of the pillars of society.

A quick fix, in my opinion, is government’s lazy way of trying to handle this “problem” of prostitution without meeting her own obligations to society like educating her people about this evil; building an inclusive economy and strong social welfare systems/networks; and promoting/upholding African values – Not legislating morality, because, like I said the primary deliberation of laws should be civil and not a moral function.

I am sincerely hoping that the president had child trafficking, sexual slavery, exploitation and pimping in mind. Heavy enforcement laws against trafficking and pimping would do justice to the plight of prostitutes who are victims of harsh economic environments that lack viable alternatives; victims of the injustice of criminalization and social stigma from "legitimate" society that figures that prostitutes brought their troubles onto themselves; and the education system that promotes job seeking mentalities minting out fresh graduates each year to do just that…job seeking.

Our Rwandese society has digressed to new levels, when daily stories in the media revolve around young university girls exchanging sexual favors for good marks; where essays and thesis are only presented but not prepared/researched by the student; when impoverished parents give away their young daughters to rich men in exchange for a herd of cows in dowry or to work as house girls; where reputable men with assumed inferiority complexes believe exchange of money or other favors for romance rejuvenates them…absurd!!

With such instances stipulated above, the definition of prostitution and the line between consensual and commerce; invisible 'prostitutes' or/and exploiters will be tough to demarcate. For instance, is exchanging sexual favors for good marks or a great thesis a kind of prostitution or likewise isn’t the act of receiving such favors exploition? Btw, by definition wouldn’t I be prostituting if my husband bought me a special gift with expectations of some kind of return or favor? Think about this objectively

Whereas Kagame has good intentions, I believe abolitionism which is a balance between his preferred criminalization and de-criminalization maybe the only legal regime viable to reduce on the alarming rate of prostitution in his country. It criminalizes perceived activities of those assumed/seen as exploiting or coercing prostitution and trafficking whilst absolving the burden of regulation from the prostitutes, period.

Rwanda should endorse the UN’s Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Person and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (if she hasn’t yet). This convention does not condone prostitution but seeks to free prostitutes from the criminal code (according them special protection under the law) whilst endeavoring to reintegrate prostitutes back into society.

It all boils down to the question of morality. I honestly believe that the immorality of hypocrisy in today's society is more dangerous than sex for favors, because all evils attached to prostitution can easily be attached to many other social interactions that are built through lies and hypocrisy. I guess what I am attempting to convey here is my “slippery slope effect forbia.” In future the mere holding of hands and kissing in public by lovers which is deemed immoral in our culture may end up to be legislated without considering the genesis of the “immoral act” and government role.

I am out like you know who