The right to human dignity is arguably the most important and fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. It is the one right that logically precedes and sustains all other human rights. It is one of the founding values of our democracy and constitutional order and it infuses and permeates the whole of our social and legal order.

Where human dignity is not valued and respected, not promoted and protected, there is no basis for human rights and consequently can be no human rights culture.

Why then is the human dignity of countless women and children threatened and violated daily, with the approval of this Parliament?

It is alarming that a Parliament that says it earnestly desires to promote and deepen human rights and a human rights culture, recently passed legislation that not only legalises online pornography, but facilitates greater access to vile and degrading forms of pornography.  Who then can honestly believe that members of this House really regard the right to human dignity as inalienable when degrading and dehumanising sexual exploitation has been legalised for the sake of commercial entertainment?  What is the current Rand value of human dignity in South Africa?  Is there really no-one else in this House who is prepared to defend the priceless status of human dignity?

You have heard repeatedly that scientific research shows that pornography use physically changes the human brain, making pornography users subconsciously cognitively register other people, not as human beings, but as objects. Pornography use destroys moral reasoning and the ability to recognise the humanity of others. It has been scientifically proven that hardcore mainstream adult pornography causes some men to perpetrate sexual violence on women and children. Mainstream adult pornography can and does directly impact the lives of women and children who never use pornography themselves.

Research also shows that pornography drives the demand for prostitution, which in turn drives the demand for sex trafficking. Prostitution reduces human beings to commercial objects, valued for their utility for the temporary sexual gratification of another. Decriminalising prostitution will condone the violation of human dignity for the purposes of commercial exploitation (effectively accepting that in South Africa, human dignity can be bought or dispensed with at a price), and in the process, increase sex trafficking and reduce none of the harms of prostitution.

In S v Jordan, the Constitutional Court stated that “Our Constitution values human dignity which is inherent in various aspects of what it means to be a human being. One of these aspects is the fundamental dignity of the human body...(and) our Constitution requires that it be respected.” The Court said that it is the character of prostitution itself, that diminished the dignity of the person engaged therein. Yet alarmingly, there is support for those who want to legalise prostitution; to legalise the commodification and degradation of the human body.

Honourable members, you and I know: pornography and prostitution devalue human beings and in so doing violates the most basic human right and fundamental constitutional value - human dignity. We will be accountable for our actions in this regard.

Is this House really okay with the fact that in South Africa, human dignity is for sale?”

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DEBATE ON HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: Celebrating the Centenary of NR Mandela by promoting and deepening a Human Rights culture across society
15 March 2018

WATCH: What is the current Rand value of human dignity?