- ZOUHAIR BAGHOUGH
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Well, as far as Morocco was concerned, there were brothels well into late 1970′s. Even the Forces Armées Royales had their own. Our country apparently enjoying a dubious reputation of that of a homeland to Filles Faciles in the Middle East. Whether that reputation is well-deserved or not is a matter of debate. This is quite irrelevant to the following: How many prostitutes (male and female alike) are there in Morocco? how is prostitution structured: are there more individuals free-lance, or more organized networks? There is also another anomaly in our grand old society: it is common use to be complacent about young men to have pre-marital sexual relationship, and prostitutes are the most straightforward way to do so. It goes back of course to the inherently patriarchal features of our society. In a sense, prostitutes are tolerated -but many blind themselves on that issue- but everyone claim purity and chastity on the behalf of their female relatives. If anything, the generic prostitute was a woman with hard luck: a divorcee with no one to sustain her, a victim of rape, cast aside by her family (a high percentage of sex workers are divorced women who got married at a very early age. UNFPA). What an efficient way to dispose of the undesirable of the so-called Islamic society.
What is the philosophical justification behind one’s selling their body, or more precisely, charge for intimate intercourse? Many capitalist I am afraid. Even though orthodox Marxists would classify prostitutes (male and female alike) as lumpen-proletariat, the process of alienation is strikingly similar to that of regular proletariats: after all, both do sell part of their workforce for a wage. In purely economic terms, prostitution, when carried out properly, is quite close to that of a regular worker. As indeed the paid wage maintains the workforce and does not degrade it (say, like a physical asset), so is prostitution: under conditions of safe sex and the use of prophylactics and regular check-ups, individual subject to prostitution will equally maintain their workforce. And indeed, if any serious study was carried out to understand the main reasons why young men and women turn into streetwalkers, It has a comfortable margin of success to explain it as a lack of suitable resources. One might argue -but then get labelled as a cynic- that prostitution is “fair game”, and thus, a mean like many others to earn a living. On the other hand, moralists can argue that prostitution degrades human beings, and forces them into submission to beastly instinct. that’s a perfectly valid point. But money talks. Claudine Legardinier did say that all prostituted women agree on the fact that their first client was the one who counted the most. The first who paid for rape opens the way to all the others. At first, the women think that they’ll stop as soon as they’ll have put money aside, but the amount of drugs and alcohol they need in order to be able to hang on makes it impossible to stop. Although they say that they get paid a lot of money, most of them are in debt.
The proposed policy is difficult to implement. Out of the top of my head, it is mission impossible to find a credible figure for the number of prostitutes in Morocco: how many, nor where they are concentrated (although one can venture an educated guess), or even if there was a serious attempt to ask them some questions. Social workers staff are not numbers are not enough, or ill-trained, ill-funded and certainly lacking the political will to tackle the issue. So there it goes: legalizing prostitution means changing substantial parts of the present penal code, as well as enacting a prostitution law that gives legislative framework for the occupation of sex worker, a legislation on brothels, sanitary standards, the re-designation of the vice squad’s missions to enforce the law, and finally, a cadre of social workers to help the prostitutes to get away from their work, either by means of education, or indeed micro-finance. Any levied tax on these activities would contribute in financing the various costs in setting up the responsible bodies.
The Law: Changing the law does not cost much, or if it does, its cost will certainly be part of the whole constitutional reform, that would certainly encompass the penal code: that kind of law is bound to bring fiscal benefits rather than be a burden on the taxpayer. a progressive and radical agenda would seek abolishing those articles that prevent individual liberties, and their corollary on “vice” (article 490 for a start). Legalizing prostitution however, involves a great deal of finesse in shaping the legislation itself: prostitution is legal, but soliciting is not. In any case, loopholes will certainly need to be as small as possible, since they involve a power of interpretation from the law enforcer, i.e. the police, which is notoriously corrupt, discretionary and indeed abusive in its enforcement. the lower blurred margins are, the better and the more efficient law enforcement will be. As the matter remains quite trivial (compared to others, much more universal) lawmaking remains within the gift of the elected regional bodies. That’s a simple way to escape difficult decisions to make at a federal level, but it also does give a margin by de-penalizing prostitution as a federal law (which means that it is still illegal, but there will be no enforcement to prevent it). The regional elected assemblies will therefore just determine the level of tolerance to it.
How would it work? It has been proven, though with some criticism, that sex workers are relatively safer in organized structures (brothels) and their activity can be more easily quantified and thus taxed (with all the benefits of getting underground activities and incomes into the regular economy). There’s a certain amount of paperwork to be filled out for licenses, medical and administrative routine controls, rates of VAT to be determined, social security, health insurance, but also the right to gather into unions, networks or pressure groups. (I am not a lawyer, so I get bored very easily with the legislative details.)
The resources: the tricky part. Because the number of prostitutes is unknown or difficult to get, an estimate would be the starting point. The scheme might even be properly funded from the outside, as indeed HIV contamination among prostitutes is quite high compared to that of the overall population (according to the UNFPA, respectively 2.1% and 0.1%). The regulations will certain state that sex workers should be compelled to use condoms and other prophylactic devices, which will certainly win favor with international institutions like the World Health Organization. Following various studies, large-scale prostitution is mainly concentrated in tourism-oriented cities like Marrakech, Agadir, Tangiers, and Casablanca for its population density. If there is any doubt about the feasibility of such policy, it would be wise though to implement it in one area as a test group. Again, the cost incurred would be minimal: police would merely re-assign its tourism brigade and the vice squad to other tasks. As for the social workers’ establishment, various experiences do prove that it remains feasible. the Families and Social Cohesion department got involved in comparable strategies, which costs overall MAD 191 Mn (2010 Budget). A substantial part of the centralized expenditure can be deviated and put into such projects, in one of the regions of course, as a feasibility test. The human element in any case, would represent a modest sum compared to the total expenditure (a little under 24%). the Health Department has also experienced and trained personnel that can be of help too.
Legalizing prostitution, in essence, is a straightforward strategy to allow for social workers to target sex-workers, engage with them on matters of health and sanitary standards, and later on, when trust and acceptance ties are made, to talk them into scheme the government would be providing for them: free training for more conventional jobs, part-time education for those who did not achieve minimal levels of education, and ultimately, finance for small business project that could get them away from prostitution.
The Ultimate Objective is of course, to get rid of it gradually. The core argument for legalizing it is to control it, and only so would the authorities be able to influence the outcome in favor of a long term abolition of prostitution. There is also the wider picture to bear in mind: if the domestic economy can sustain a long and healthy growth, income gaps and poverty are bound to be reduced, and so the chances for young men and women to fall into prostitution. It also prevent the likelihoods of children to become victims of prostitution themselves. Now that sex workers are protected by law, enforcement can be targeted more effectively against child abuse, and any activity related to pedophile tourism.
There is evidence that such policies can have positive effects, either on the state’s finance, or on the number of prostitutes and their HIV infection rate. If implemented, these policies can reduce the number of sex workers in Morocco (as our country does not face the contingency of mass immigration) In Turkey, sex workers are required to register or to carry an ID. In Germany and in the Netherlands, these policies were successful, save for the problem of human trafficking.