KUCHING: Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) is very concerned that a woman in Sibu, after pleading guilty to a charge of prostitution under Section 372B of the Penal Code, faces a prison sentence if she could not pay the fine imposed by the court while her client got off scot free.
To address this injustice, SWWS called for Section 372B of the Penal Code to be amended to include the men who sought the sexual service of the prostitutes.
SWWS said prostitution only exists if there are men willing to pay for their services but only the woman was penalised.
“If there are no clients then there is no prostitution so why is it the woman who is the only one penalised?” asked the organisation spokesperson.
In the Sibu case, not only was the woman the only one charged, her identity was also exposed whereas the man was not identified or brought to court despite the fact that when the police raided the hotel the man was found with the woman.
“This is unfair but that is how the law stands. Section 372B makes importuning or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution a crime. Nowhere in this, or other sections of the penal code, is the man buying the service criminalised, but this can and should be changed.
“If the man had been buying goods that were stolen he would be prosecuted but not when the other partner in a business transaction is selling sex. Why?”
Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW) which means there is a legal requirement to align our domestic laws to achieve this aim.
CEDAW Committee notes that poverty and unemployment can force many women into prostitution. Broken homes and childhood abuse may also drive women into prostitution, it said.
In the Sibu case the woman had just RM70 on her which was presumed to have come from the encounter.
“Her fine for prostitution was RM3,000 (in default 2 months’ jail) and she was further fined RM1,300 (in default one month’s jail) as, although she had a local sounding name, she was unable to present her identification card (IC),” it said.
Such lack of documentation is not uncommon for Sarawakians and the lack of an IC means many are forced into the informal economy.
“For a woman with just a few dollars on her it seems unlikely she would be able to pay the RM4,300 fine and is probably now in jail,” it said.
SWWS noted that, Section 372B of the Penal Code is biased in nature and violates the equal protection clause under Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution which provides that ‘All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law’.
“Equal protection of law means that all persons similarly situated would be applied the same law alike without discrimination. Section 372B of the Penal Code only punishes one side of the party that is the women as it is only the women who would be deemed to solicit or importune for the purpose of prostitution.”
To address the one sided law, SWWS called for Section 372B of the Penal Code to be amended to include the men offering the hire for the sexual act.
“This would not only be non-discriminatory but could be an effective measure to curb prostitution. Other steps include helping vulnerable women find legitimate work which pays a living wage,” it said.