“Extremely limited policy provisions” for sex workers in the Country


Findings in a recent study indicate there are extremely limited policy provisions related to sexual and reproductive health (SHR) and Gender-based violence for sex workers, likely due to their illegal status in Samoa.

This is outlined in the policy and legislative review of sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence in Samoa report commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) under the Australian Government-funded Transformative Agenda for Women, Adolescents and Youth in the Pacific programme. 

The National HIV, AIDS & STI Policy 2017-2022 illuminates this policy challenge, which identifies sex workers as a key population group and acknowledges the need to maintain confidentiality to ensure that sex workers’ use of prevention services does not expose them to legal risk. Overall, criminalisation creates barriers in accessing SRH services for sex workers and produces additional vulnerabilities to GBV. 

According to the report, sex work is illegal in Samoa, which has significant impacts on sex workers’ sexual and reproductive health as well as their access to safe working environments, and Sexual and reproductive health and rights services and support. 

“Prostitution is illegal under the Crimes Act 2013 stating a person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years who has sexual intercourse or sexual connection, or agrees, or offers to have sexual intercourse or sexual connection with another person for gain or reward’ (s 72(1)). 

“Solicitation is punishable for a term not exceeding 5 years (s 73(1)). Living on the earnings of sex work or procuring a woman or girl to have sexual intercourse with a male are punishable by prison terms of up to 10 and 7 years respectively (ss 74-75). Brothel owners, under the Crimes Act 2013 are liable for prison terms of up to 10 years for heterosexual prostitution and up to 7 years for homosexual sex (ss 70-71). 

According to the Pacific Multi-Country Mapping and Behavioural Study conducted in 2016, there are about 400 female sex workers in Samoa, most of whom are engaged in sex work for economic reasons (Worth et al., 2016). 

“According to the study, the women’s clients included both local and foreign men, and condom use among this group was only 33 per cent (Worth et al., 2016, p.9). The study found that sex workers were not actively engaging with sexual and reproductive health services with none of the women interviewed having accessed a sexual and reproductive health service in the prior 12 months, including HIV testing (Idid). 

Due to the illegal status of sex work in Samoa, the rates of sex workers engaging with health services are low, particularly SRH.” 

Furthermore, the report says that the provision of confidential counselling, health services and condom programmes to this group are targeted through the 2017-2022 National HIV, AIDS, and STI Policy, however, the level of uptake of these opportunities are not known to the authors of this report. 

It is important that there are specific measures to include sex workers in SRH-related policy as they are not only less likely to access services but are more vulnerable to SRH-related morbidity and mortality and gender-based violence. There is more information needed to understand the specific needs, barriers and enablers to accessing SRH in this population.