Human Rights Violations of Mothers who are Sex Workers in Hungary

European Regional Correspondent

According to the Hungarian legislation on misdemeanor offenses, it is prohibited to arrest someone if this means their underage children will be left without a legal guardian. Despite this regulation, SZEXE, the Hungarian sex worker organisation, reports that there are many sex workers who get drawn into a misdemeanor proceeding and are held in detention for 72 hours before their trial. While they are in detention, their children do not have a legal guardian.

Sex work was legalized in Hungary in 1999. Despite this, if a parent engages in sex work this might be considered sufficient to lose custody of the child. A considerable proportion of sex workers choose sex work to support their children. According to the latest survey by SZEXE, 50 percent of sex workers have children.

Sex workers are often afraid to admit that they have children. The law determining when a person is exposing their children to danger is vague, and police and partners of sex workers often blackmail sex workers. They threaten sex workers and say they will turn to children protection authorities because the mother is also a sex worker.

The real challenges start well before any of these regulations become applicable and are exercised. The starting point is when the sex worker is working on the street. The police – often with fabricated evidence – issue substantial fines for offering services at unauthorised locations. This is largely driven by the fact that while municipalities are required to define zones that allow for sex work, they have failed to designate new ‘tolerance zones’ for the past 17 years. 

According to SZEXE, fines and “raids & collect” actions are performed by the police even at authorised locations. Fines issued by the police can often be at such scale that sex workers cannot afford to pay them, which results in fines being converted to jail time, which can be up to 2 years.

In general, the result of the unclear and vague regulations (especially of the family law) and conflicting interests lead to the violation of sex workers’ human rights.

SZEXE has turned to the Hungarian Ombudsman (Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights) with a complaint and request for a regulation change. The Ombudsman, Laszlo Szekely has responded stating that while the creation of new regulation or change of current law is not justified, the clarification and extension of the current implementation practices are necessary and therefore he called for the attention of the secretary of state to address this exiting gap.