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Struggling sex workers in Botswana get food aid

FILE - An empty street is seen during a nationwide lockdown, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, in Botswana

FILE - An empty street is seen during a nationwide lockdown, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, in Botswana

More than 800 sex workers across Botswana will receive food hampers donated by non-governmental organizations this week, with priority given to migrants, those who who are HIV-positive and those with young children.

Two NGOs working with the sex workers' organization, Sisonke, are assisting with the handouts. Program manager Mandla Pule says the project aims to help migrant sex workers who do not have access to the government's coronavirus relief aid.

"Our priority groups are sex workers, especially non-citizens, because under the Botswana social relief for COVID-19, only citizens are supported with food parcels. So, we saw fit that we target sex workers who are HIV-positive, and secondly, those with children and those who are foreigners," Pule said.

Authorities in Botswana imposed a nationwide lockdown in March to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The country has recorded 24 cases of the virus, and one death. Pule said restrictions in movement due to the lockdown have meant sex workers cannot meet their clients.

"Sex workers are mostly affected because they are dependent on the movement of people. Under lockdown there are no people; nobody is allowed to go anywhere, so in turn they have lost an income," Pule said.

Sex work remains illegal in Botswana, but an estimated 7,000 locals and migrants are involved in the trade. Botswana has begun easing its lockdown restrictions and full activities are expected to resume after May 21. 

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