KIGALI - The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, said yesterday, that Parliament could revisit a law banning prostitution which is currently before the Senate, days after the UNAIDS Regional Director – Eastern and Southern Africa, Prof Sheila Tlou, appealed to legislators to do so.
Article 221 of the Penal code on sex workers stipulates that, “Any person who practices the profession of prostitution shall be liable for a term of imprisonment ranging from six months to three years and a fine ranging from fifty thousands to five hundred thousand Rwanda Francs.”
The 600-article penal code was passed by the Chamber of Deputies with the article. It is currently in the Senate awaiting scrutiny by the Senatorial ad hoc committee.
“As long as the Penal code document has not been fully approved, it can always be reversed for revision but it is up to the plenary to decide on whether the article should be repealed or not,” Ntawukuriryayo told The New Times when asked whether Prof Tlou’s request would be considered.
However, he added that his concerns were on how to determine a sex worker in Rwanda.
“There is no way you will charge someone for practicing prostitution without a clear basis, but all these issues are subject to debate,” he said.
Tlou made the appeal at the official launch of the National Accelerated Country Action plan for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV held at the parliamentary buildings on Wednesday.
“I humbly request, through the Speaker of Parliament, that honourable members of the Rwandan Parliament and Senators take the opportunity to use this Country Action Plan to examine the evidence around HIV infection among sex workers and to repeal Article 221 of the draft penal code,” said Prof. Tlou.
Senator Marie Mukantabana, who chairs the ad hoc committee that is charged with scrutinising the penal code, also said that Prof. Tlou’s request would be looked into.
“I wasn’t aware of the article, but when the issue was raised I looked at it. We have not started revising the penal code but when we get to that article, we will consider the requests,” said Mukantabana.
She, however, added that her committee may summon Prof. Tlou or her representative to justify why the parliament should repeal the article.
Although the concern on criminalisation of prostitution is just coming up, the article is not new in the panel code; actually, it is one of the articles that were not amended while the document was being amended.