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African Sex Workers Alliance


The ambiguous use of the term ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘prostitution’:


The conflation of sexual exploitation and trafficking with voluntary adult sex work has led to violation that severely undermine the rights of sex workers. By conflating voluntary adult sex work with exploitation, resources are being misdirected into policing and punishing consensual sex work rather than identifying people who are trafficked into sex work and sexually exploited and providing them appropriate and necessary support[1]. Sexual exploitation, prostitution and trafficking people is not the same as consensual adult sex work. A distinction, drawing from the Palermo Protocol[2]  must clearly demarcate voluntary sex work from involuntary and coercive exploitation and trafficking. UN agencies, such as WHO, UNAIDS, OHCHR, UNDP, international organizations such as ILO, UN treaty monitoring bodies, and UN Special Rapporteurs carefully distinguish between sex work, trafficking and sexual exploitation.  This GR should therefore follow the same practice[3]. UNODC reflected on the concept of ‘exploitation’ in the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, acknowledging that sex work must not be conflated with human trafficking. Further, UNODC explicates the misuse of trafficking law as a result of inadequate definitions, including of the term exploitation, noting that it is poorly defined and highly contested.[4]

[1] 6 Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW). Collateral damage, The impact of anti trafficking measures on human rights around the world. Bangkok, 2007.

[2] The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol). GA resolution 55/25, adopted 15 November 2000.

[3] Global Commission on HIV and the Law. (2012) HIV and the law: risks, rights and health. New York (NY): United Nations Development Programme; 2012; Technical guidance for Global Fund HIV proposals Round 11 (complete), The report of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and sex work. Geneva: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS; 2011; WHO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, NSWP, World Bank & UNDP, 2013, “Implementing Comprehensive HIV/STI Programmes with Sex Workers: Practical Approaches from Collaborative Interventions”. UNODC 2006 Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. New York (NY): United Nations; 2000 (A/55/49 (Vol. I))

[4] United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, Issue Paper: The International Legal Definition of Trafficking in Persons, 2018

ASWA has endorsed and supported the Global Network of Sex Workers Project (NSWP) Anti Trafficking Policy and further taken advantage of various spaces to ensure that awareness of and information about trafficking reaches as many of its members as possible, to ensure that sex workers collaborate and collectively oppose all forms of trafficking and sexual exploitation and strongly condemn the circumstances or persons that force women and minors into a profession they have not chosen.[1]


  • Section IV, e, “Root causes of trafficking in women and girls and discouraging the demand that fosters their exploitation through trafficking”, para 24:


Requested change (deletion):


(DEL “In its general recommendation no. 34 (2016) on rural women, the Committee highlighted that the economic hardships of rural life including the negative effects of climate change, high levels of poverty, restricted access to State benefits, protection and services, resulting in, inter alia, low levels of education, and low awareness on how traffickers operate, render rural women especially vulnerable to exploitation, in particular in prostitution and as domestic workers and in conflict-affected regions.”)


The references given to the Committee’s own documents [General recommendation No. 34 (2016) (CEDAW/C/GC/34), para. 26; CEDAW Contributions to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2017 HLPF)] do not mention “prostitution” or domestic workers. Indeed, only the former document contains a single reference to “prostitution”, and only in quoting the precise text of Article 6.

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