Saturday, February 23, 2008

EnGendeRights Calls on Senators to Remove the Penalty Imposed on Women in Prostitution

by Clara Rita A. Padilla, February 20, 2008

“Amidst the pending issuance of the committee report on Substitute Bill No. 2066 on prostitution, we are calling on the members of Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights and Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws to remove the penalty imposed on women in prostitution and to uphold their rights as protected by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),” says Atty. Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights.

The estimated figure of women and children in forced prostitution in 2005 was about 800,000. The passage of the “Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003” (Republic Act 9208) is significant in the effort to fight against trafficking. However, provisions of the Revised Penal Code continue to focus law enforcement attention on women in prostitution, rather than on their exploiters. Article 341 on prostitution and Article 202 on vagrancy are still being used to round up and imprison women in prostitution or are sometimes used to extort money or sexual favors.

The existing criminal law imposing imprisonment on women in prostitution disregards the fact that many are lured to prostitution because of the desperation due to poverty and lack of alternative sources of income. The discriminatory provisions imposing penalties on women in prostitution should be repealed.

It is significant that the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 accords legal protection to trafficked persons by recognizing them as victims who should not be penalized for crimes directly related to the acts of trafficking or in obedience to the order made by the trafficker. Quezon City Ordinance No. SP-1516 also recognizes persons in prostitution as victims, thus, imposing penalties only on the perpetrators (pimps, recipient of the sexual act, etc.) while providing services to persons in prostitution such as education campaigns against prostitution, crisis intervention service, education and socio-economic assistance, sustainable livelihood skills training, financial support for scale businesses, integration and complete after-care programs, health services, counseling, and temporary shelter.

Atty. Padilla emphasized, “Detaining women in prostitution is not the answer. Many women are forced into prostitution because they were rape or incest victims or their families were abusive to them in the past. There should be legal initiatives designed to provide alternatives to women in prostitution through education, skills training and employment.”

“Senators should support bills that repeal the vagrancy provisions under Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code such as SB 694 filed by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, SB 1836 filed by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (SB 1836), and SB 1886 filed by Senator Manuel Villar. These bills intend to put a stop to human rights violations of women in prostitution and homosexuals who are rounded up on the basis of Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code,” says Atty. Padilla.

"Senators must emulate the Regional Trial Court decision of Judge Marcelino F. Bautista, Jr. in Civil Case Q96-26153 when he declared the vagrancy provision under Art. 202 paragraph 2 unconstitutional. Judge Bautista stated in the decision, 'we cannot see how poverty should be a criminal act. X x x [T]he very thought of punishment of a person because of poverty smacks of elitism and a violation of the equal protection of the law clause,'” added Atty. Padilla.

Moreover, the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), the committee tasked to monitor the implementation of CEDAW, in its August 2006 36th Session Concluding Comments urged the Philippines “to pursue a holistic approach aimed at addressing the root causes of trafficking and improving prevention...[including] measures to improve the economic situation of women and girls and to provide them with educational and economic opportunities, thereby reducing and eliminating their vulnerability to exploitation and traffickers” and the “reintegration of [women in prostitution] into society and provide rehabilitation, social integration and economic empowerment programmes to women and girls who are victims of exploitation and trafficking.” It urged the Philippines to “prosecute and punish traffickers and those who exploit the prostitution of women, and provide protection to victims of trafficking.”

Atty. Padilla said, "Having ratified the Women’s Convention, the Philippines is legally bound to uphold its provisions, to take action at the national level, and to enact and implement laws and policies that comply with international laws and standards. The Concluding Comments of CEDAW should be used to push for reforms in our laws and ensure the actual implementation of these laws whether in the legislative, executive or judicial field."

“It is the duty of the Philippine government to fulfill its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of women in prostitution,” Atty. Padilla stressed.