Authorities in Tajikistan Have Toughened Penalties for Sex Work

Regional Correspondent Europe

The Tajik Parliament wants to abolish sex work. They are introducing harsher measures under the Administrative Liability Code, hoping this will deter sex workers from working in the industry. According to the Tajik news source Ozodi, under new and harsher rules set out in the Administrative Liability Code, sex workers caught breaking the law for the first time will be required to pay double what they paid in the past. If the same sex worker breaks the law a second time, they will face up to 15 days in jail.

Under Tajik law, sex work is not a criminal offense. However, sex workers in Tajikistan are penalised under the Code of Administrative Offences. Article 130 stipulates penalties for sex work in the form of fines. In practice, as stated in Reporting From The Shadows, this article is used by police to target sex workers for extortion under threat of fines, arrest, and detention. Police routinely disclose sex workers’ work in their communities through these interactions.

In most cases when sex workers are arrested, they are brought to a police department where there is an “investigation”. Sometimes sex workers are subjected to gynaecological exams for sexually transmitted infections, which is a humiliating procedure that violates their human rights. After paying a fine they are usually released. Often the test results are disclosed in front of other detainees and members of the police. These practices counter the International Guidelines on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights and further expose sex workers to violence and discrimination.

The state's crackdown on sex workers dates back at least one year. In the spring and summer of 2014 authorities raided nightclubs, restaurants, bars, hotels, and red light districts in search of sex workers, shaming those they detained. In the autumn of 2014 the radio station "Radio Ozodi" said the Tajik Interior Ministry was considering prosecuting not only sex workers but their clients. They did not specify the kind of punishment they were planning to introduce. Currently, the clients of sex workers are not punishable under Tajik law, although in practice a lot usually pay bribes in order to avoid public shaming on TV bulletins or on the interior ministry's website.

Sex workers in Tajikistan are stigmatised and experience discrimination by society and law enforcement agencies. Many women in Tajikistan work as sex workers because wages are very low in other jobs. Furthermore, many women experience job discrimination when they try to get other work. Tajikistan is the world’s most remittance-dependent country, with a significant portion of its male population abroad for work, leaving their wives to deal with Tajikistan’s fragile economy.