Top UNICEF Official Calls for Legalized and Unionized Prostitution

By C-FAM Staff | June 6, 2003

     (NEW YORK – C-FAM) On Tuesday, a high ranking UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) official called for the legalization of prostitution and for UNICEF to make condoms available "for everybody, everywhere and at all times." Speaking at the annual session of UNICEF's Executive Board, Urban Jonsson, UNICEF Eastern and Southern African Regional Director, said that UNICEF would need to pursue such "controversial the near future if we are to win the war against HIV/AIDS."

     Specifically Jonsson urged that UNICEF take actions to "de-criminalise sex-work and facilitate the organisation of sex-workers." Jonsson did not elaborate on how UNICEF would achieve these ends, but claimed that "Experience from Europe and Thailand has shown that when sex-workers are organized they are in a stronger position to negotiate safer sex with their clients."

     However, it remains an open question whether this position would be effective in reducing AIDS infection rates. Writing in a February 27 Wall Street Journal column, Donna M. Hughes, professor of women's studies at the University of Rhode Island, and an expert in sexual trafficking, wrote that efforts to make "sex work" safer for prostitutes fail because many prostitutes in countries like Thailand are underage and virtual slaves in their brothels, thereby making it impossible for them to negotiate for condom use. Hughes cites a US Agency for International Development (USAID) study that determined that efforts to organize prostitutes "had no significant impact on a 'sex worker's freedom of movement' or 'the ability of sex workers to refuse clients who did not want to use condoms.'" Hughes concludes that the best way to protect prostitutes is to liberate them from brothels.

     In his statement, Jonsson also calls for an end to discourse over the relative effectiveness of condom use. Jonnson told the meeting of diplomats and bureaucrats "Let us stop the almost metaphysical debate on the pros and cons of the use of condoms..Let us follow the decision of the government of Botswana to make condoms available and accessible for everybody, everywhere and at all times. The use of condoms is not the full or the final solution, but it has been a part of all known successes to reduce HIV infections. Abstinence is simply not a realistic option for most young people in the world today."

     Jonnson's contentions are contradicted by a USAID report for Uganda, the only country in sub-Saharan Africa in which the AIDS epidemic has been contained. According to USAID, condom use did not play a significant role in Uganda's success. What is more, USAID found that behavior change, abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage, was the most important element of the Ugandan program.

     Jonnson's comments are sure to fuel the growing suspicion that UNFICEF has departed significantly from its central mission of protecting poor children from disease, hunger and death. There is a feeling among many that UNICEF has ventured more into promotion of what some see as a radical notion of women's rights, especially under Executive Director Carol Bellamy.