The Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), a non-governmental, human rights organisation, said it is working assiduously to have sex work decriminalised in Jamaica, so that the practitioners can operate safely.
Patrick Lalor, who is JASL's Policy and Advocacy officer, told THE STAR that the ultimate aim is to have the sex trade fully legalised, but they will settle for decriminalisation for now.
"Our advocacy work includes trying to get rid of any punitive laws that we find makes things more challenging for our population and exposes them to Human Immunodeficiency Virus," Lalor said.
Currently, there are 5,000 members in the Sex Workers Association, but Lalor noted that this is only 10 per cent of the total number of sex workers islandwide.
Lalor argued that the stigma and discrimination attached to sex work deters the practitioners from seeking medical attention, as well as legal redress when they are abused.
He added that they are sometimes forced at knife point to have unprotected sex with clients, and contract sexual infections in the process, but are afraid to seek medical attention because of the discrimination they face.
Lalor further added that the laws which make prostitution illegal are archaic and do not reflect current realities.
JASAL has taken several steps to decriminalise sex work. In 2014, they were part of a group which made submissions to Parliament when the Sexual Offences Act was being reviewed by a committee. However, the process was halted with the change of Government.
Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck refused to comment on the issue of decriminalising sex work in Jamaica, but he noted that Parliament has selected a new committee to review the Sexual Offences Act, and they will be meeting some time this week.
To those who oppose the decriminalisation of sex work, such as the church, Lalor said, "Many of the husbands of the wives in church do business there, and what we are promoting is to ensure that their people can carry out their activities in a safe, healthy way, so that these husbands don't take back any STIs to the wives."