Banning Prostitution Not the Way to Reduce AIDS in Indonesia, Minister Says

The Jakarta Globe

Regional governments need to support a scheme to centralize prostitution in order to better monitor it and push down the number of HIV/AIDS infections in the country, the coordinating minister for people’s welfare, Agung Laksono, said on Monday.

“Some regional governments have pushed through regulations that shut down some of the red-light districts in their districts,” Agung said.

“That is counterproductive because prostitution will only go underground where there are no health guidelines for either the prostitutes or their customers.”

Limiting prostitution to one clearly delineated area would not only help control and monitor the activities but also provide the appropriate health guidance and services, he said.

Nafsiah Mboi, the secretary general of the National AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA), called on regional governments to reassess their regulations on prostitution.

“The idea of shutting down red-light districts is actually very dangerous because there is no control over reproductive health, no condom distribution and also no regular health checks,” Nafsiah said.

She said that the banning of prostitution only pushed it out of sight, with places like ports — of which there are more than 2,000 in Java and Sumatra — and bus terminals becoming centers for the illicit trade.

Gamawan Fauzi, the minister of home affairs, said poverty was the driving force behind prostitution and the rising number of HIV/AIDS case.

Agung called on all political parties and civilian organizations not to politicize the issue of centralizing prostitution or distributing free condoms because they were main keys to combating the spread of the HIV virus in the country.

Unfortunately, he said, there were many who did not support these methods, saying they were “not in accordance with cultural and religious values.”

The official number of people with HIV/AIDS in the country as of December 2010 was 79,979 in 32 provinces, 24,131 of which had full-blown AIDS, Ministry of Health data showed.

The data also showed that the main cause of transmission was unsafe sexual activity among heterosexuals at 52.7 percent, followed by drug injection at 38 percent and homosexual encounters at 3 percent.

Agung said prevention was the only option as there was no cure for the disease.

“Giving away free condoms to those who engage in high-risk sexual activities will help reduce the number of HIV/AIDS cases, as will providing sex education to people in 15 to 24 age bracket,” the minister said.

Agung also honored 10 governors, including Jakarta’s Fauzi Bowo, for their commitment to combating the spread of the disease. The other governors were from Riau Islands, Riau, Bangka-Belitung, Central Java, Yogyakarta, South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, North Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara.

“I hope this award will prompt all provincial leaders to produce the same efforts as those 10 governors,” Agung said, adding the award was based on three criteria — leadership, concern for the HIV/AIDS population and support for the regional AIDS Eradication Commissions.

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