Jamaica: Tax sex workers

Gov’t could rake in $3 billion a year from prostitution
TANEISHA LEWIS, Observer staff reporter lewist@jamaicaobserver.com
Thursday, June 19, 2008

DECRIMINALISATION and taxing of prostitution could bring an estimated $3 billion a year into the government’s coffers, a senior health ministry official suggested yesterday.

Dr Kevin Harvey, senior medical officer in charge of the health ministry’s National HIV/STI Programme said regulating sex workers would also mean that the country would no longer have to look to external funding agencies to finance that programme.

“We need to have some regulation for this kind of grouping. I am not saying that we must go and legalise it, but we must decriminalise it and regulate commercial sex work in order to have greater reach,” Harvey said in an address at the launch of the 2008 Knowledge, Attitude, Belief and Practices (KABP) survey.

His suggestion mirrored that of his boss, Professor Peter Figueroa, head of epidemiology and AIDS in the ministry who four years ago argued that decriminalisation of prostitution would help to provide them with greater access to health services, thereby helping to restrict the spread of the deadly Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

A year after Figueroa’s call, the Human Resource and Social Development Committee of Parliament recommended a debate on homosexuality and prostitution, as one of 31 suggestions to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

But Dr Harvey went further yesterday to call for a tax on commercial sex workers, the ministry’s preferred name for prostitutes, and he calculated that the treasury could pull in close to $3 billion a year from the tax.

Said Harvey: “Let’s say we estimate that we have about 10,000 CSWs (commercial sex workers) in Jamaica and let’s say they have two episodes of commercial sex per week and let’s say each episode costs about $5,000. So they are earning $10,000 a week. The average earning per CSW would be about $520,000 per year. the total annual earning for the population would be $5 billion.

“If we estimate five episodes per week, which is more likely – the UNAIDS estimate seven to 10 episodes per week – the earning is $13 billion per year and if we do 10 episodes per week it is $26 billion. Twenty-five per cent of that is $2.5 billion. The entire budget for the HIV programme is $1 billion for one year. This could fund twice over the entire HIV programme for Jamaica and, not only that, it would provide us with an opportunity to reach these persons providing necessary intervention that are required to reduce their risk of transmission.”

Dr Harvey also pointed out that the earnings from the CSWs could also be used to provide them with access to condom skills in order to foster risk reduction.

“We could have access to providing linkages with our training education programme and our rehabilitation programme,” he said, adding that some CSWs were also drug addicts.

CSWs are among the persons most at risk of contracting the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus that frequently leads to AIDS. While there is no data indicating the number of prostitutes in Jamaica, figures from the health ministry indicated a nine per cent HIV prevalence in that group.

In its five-year strategic plan, the ministry proposes to strengthen prevention efforts for sex workers and others engaging in transactional sex. But the plan also complained that “there is little support from political and other high level leaders for messages of intervention dealing with risk reduction and increased access to treatment and care targeted at certain at risk groups, among them sexually active minors, men who have sex with men, incarcerated men, commercial sex workers and those in places where other forms of transactional sex are practised”.

“This translates to a political environment that offers minimal support for any policy position or law reform seeking to increase access to condom use and treatment for such at risk groups,” the notes to the plan said.

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1 Comment

  1. This is a great article. I am impressed with the Jamaican Health Ministry. They prefer the term “sex worker” to “prostitute,” and they use the phrase “risk reduction” in lieu of “harm reduction.” These people have clearly thought this through and studied the issues carefully. Someone should tell them about the DMSC in Calcutta, EMPOWER in Thailand, and Davida in Brazil- all of which have extremely successful peer-education projects that address HIV/AIDS in their respective countries- as well as informing them of the process New Zealand went through to decriminalize prostitution, and their impressive tax intake as a result.

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