The Lesotho Times issue of May 19 had a story about experts for HIV-free generation, Festus Mogae and Miriam Were.
The two argued that it would be best for countries such as Lesotho to legalise prostitution in order to curb the spread of HIV.
Mogae and Were came into the country to encourage an accelerated response against the HIV pandemic.
This was important because Lesotho is ranked as a country with the third highest HIV prevalence rate in the world.
What does prostitution entail?
Wynfred Russell argues that it is “the use of real human beings to satisfy the fantasies of others”.
Prostitutes wander around the main roads of the towns from dusk until dawn with visible concentrations.
They stroll about the streets dressed in provocative attire so that their clients could be attracted.
According to Russell, the fact that authorities tend to treat prostitution as a less serious crime worsens it.
Our police give a blind eye to prostitution and concentrate on matters they regard as “serious”.
For instance, when one is suspected to be in possession of illegal substances or weapons police hasten to investigate the matter.
But police seldom attend to offences of and related to prostitution.
Mogae postulated that “if the continent is to achieve its target of completely stopping new HIV infections by 2015, then this alternative should be considered”.
In some countries, legalisation of prostitution is believed to have increased the tax-base for the government.
But prostitution in Lesotho may have devastating effects that will be detrimental to our labour force.
Encouraging prostitution implies increasing the chances of infecting the active labour force with HIV.
What would happen to the economy if our labour force is weakened by HIV?
It is evident that an unhealthy labour force will bring economic activity into jeopardy.
Remember these are the very people entrusted to feed and clothe our society.
The reputation of businesses located around famous streets for prostitution is tarnished.
Businesspeople lose customers and incur costs of monitoring their businesses against prostitutes and their clients.
More costs are suffered as surveillance equipment has to be installed or security tightened.
On one hand, prostitution pays better than most jobs available to young women especially the vulnerable ones.
For example, a factory worker earns less than M30 a day whereas a prostitute makes at least M30 per client and she can have as many clients as possible in one night.
This shows prostitution can be a good source of income.
On the other hand, initiating such policy will definitely pull workers out of factories to work as prostitutes thereby reducing available manpower for the factories. This in turn will lead to reductions in levels of investment in the country.
Prostitution also leads to more social problems in the community. These include increased levels of violence and crime in our society.
Research on prostitution shows more sex workers are raped, beaten or even killed.
Prostitution also promotes adultery in society.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can easily spread through a client contracting infections from a sex worker and then passing them on to family members.
This can cause serious havoc in our society, particularly families.
STIs transmission is not unidirectional but bidirectional. That is, STIs transmissions may be from prostitutes to clients or from clients to prostitutes.
This increases chances of spreading the infection and the cost of eradicating such diseases will be higher.
As a social problem, legalising prostitution will not only increase the number of divorces in society but human trafficking will also take precedence.
Having determined economic and social costs of legalising prostitution, authorities should focus on reducing prostitution as one of the measures to combat HIV and other STIs.
Authorities should stop chasing prostitutes but rather involve them in prevention programmes to enhance communication with them about the use of condoms, as Mogae argues.
But this does not require the state to legalise prostitution.
Programmes should encompass all relevant bodies that will help the sex workers quit their profession that so often ruins lives and the economy at large.
Equipping prostitutes with life-skills development training, increasing fines for prostitution-related offences and imposing harsh law enforcement on prostitution are some of the measures that could be undertaken to curb HIV through elimination of prostitution.
Even if this industry becomes heavily regulated it is hard to believe that these individuals who have been breaking the law until it had to be diverted to their direction will make sacrifices with regard to regulations.
After all these people are morally challenged and need help.
Legalising prostitution is suicidal for Lesotho as this will only see the country get 100 percent new infections by 2015 instead of zero percent new infections.
● Joel Rantaoleng is an economics student at the National University of Lesotho