An international civil society group that advocates for the health and human rights of sex workers has said it "strongly supports” the Maltese government's efforts to decriminalise sex work. 

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) said it reiterated the need for a human rights-based approach to sex work and encouraged the Maltese government to continue with the law reform towards the full decriminalisation of sex work. 

Its position is in line with that of eight international organisations which had said the move would protect the well-being and dignity of sex workers.

That stance is, however, opposed by the Malta Women’s Lobby and a coalition of more than 40 national women’s rights, anti-trafficking and social work NGOs, which recently flagged their concern that the law as proposed would be a “gift” to pimps and human traffickers.

The NSWP is a global network of sex worker-led organisations, with 314 members in 96 countries. It advocates for rights-based health and social services, freedom from abuse and discrimination, and self-determination for sex workers. 

In its statement, the NSWP said that evidence has shown that decriminalisation of sex work “significantly reduces” sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, exploitation, and perceived dependence on third parties for safety while working. 

Sex workers’ rights – the right to work and to free choice of employment, the right to social protection, freedom from violence, and access to justice – are all violated when their work is criminalised, and their voices are excluded, it said.

It said that the detrimental impacts of the criminalisation on the health, safety, and human rights of sex workers are well-documented. The criminalisation of sex work impedes sex workers’ access to sexual and reproductive health services, to justice, labour rights and social protection while perpetuating sex workers’ marginalisation, exclusion, and vulnerability to violence and HIV, it insisted.

Those opposed to the Maltese government's plans advocate for a system which criminalises sex workers' clients.

The NSWP said this approach, commonly referred to as the “Nordic Model”, was framed as a strategy to promote gender equality and combat human trafficking but in reality reduced sex workers’ economic stability, drives sex workers away from support services and increases their vulnerability to violence, discrimination, and exploitation.

NSWP encouraged the Maltese government to listen to and engage sex workers in policy discussions, as has been done successfully with LGBTI community members in Malta.

They applauded former Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar for speaking out against the Nordic Model and positioning herself clearly in support of decriminalisation in Malta.

“We urge the Maltese government to continue to pursue a rights and evidence-based approach, despite the opposition from fundamental feminist and abolitionist voices promoting the Nordic Model,” the NSWP said.

It said it recommended the full decriminalisation of all aspects of sex work, including sex workers, clients and third parties, the meaningful involvement of sex workers in the planning, design, implementation, and monitoring of services, and the alignment of sex worker programming with international guidelines, including Implementing comprehensive HIV/STI programmes with sex workers: practical approaches from collaborative interventions. 

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