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– Causes, Effects, Remittances and Solutions
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 12th July 2013
Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession in the world as it is as old as the hills. It is the practice of selling one’s body for money by offering sex at a negotiated price. Prostitution comes in different classes and guises. There are men who live with women they picked from the streets and who have not been formally acknowledged as wives, because the man has not stood on ceremony with them.
In the Bible, notorious prostitutes include Jezebel during the time of King Ahab, Delilah who entrapped Samson for him to be captured and overpowered, Salome who gave the erotic dance before King Herod on his birthday, Mary Magdalene who was rescued by Jesus from being stoned by the Pharisees, Gomer, Hosea’s wife, among many others.
In Ghana, our late Prime Minister from 1969 to 1972, Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia, an Oxford Sociologist, wrote his thesis on Prostitution in the Sekondi-Takoradi area in 1950 (Report on a Social Survey of Sekondi-Takoradi 1950) . When we were young in the 50s and 60s, we used to call whores or harlots as Tuutuufo or Maame-I-dey- Come or Simpowa-Simpowa. In my hometown Winneba, there was an area called Pepe Tsiefidanh, on Victoria Road, where there are many rocks.
Some light-skinned Calabar women made their shacks in the area, and men who were sexually challenged and impassioned, went there to relieve themselves at a fee. You would often see those middle-aged women sitting outside their shacks, waiting for customers.
In those days in the 60s, we were young so we derived fun by shouting out the derogatory name, ‘Tuutuufo and run away after the verbal assault. We did not know that those foreign women were in real business. I came across a lot of Ghanaian harlots in Nigeria in the 80s (from January 1981 to July 1991) in places such as Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, among others. They were mostly young girls between 18 and 30.
There was a time I was in a remote village in Ogun State when a posse of Ghanaian prostitutes landed in our village. One of our male light-skinned compatriots, who was a heavy smoker and acolyte of Ogogoro (Akpeteshie) or local gin, welcomed them in his quarters and started spreading the word to believers and patrons. In my school, there were thirteen Ghanaian teachers, two ladies and eleven men.
We also had four teachers in another village, about four kilometres from us. One of my best friends went for one of the posse of harlots. Later, he confided in me that he had contracted a very severe and deadly strain of STI, which according to him, was worrying him a lot. He said the disease was causing him to be mentally deranged and disturbed. He was an accomplished Chemistry and Biology major.
I also lived in a part of Lagos in Ikeja, at Adekunle Village, where in a nearby restaurant, about five Ghanaian prostitutes made their base. One of them used to come to me to write her letters for her as they all held me in high esteem and took me as a role model.
Unfortunately, after living in Lagos for six years without bedding any woman (out of my strong Christian ethics and beliefs, and strong personal morals), I fell pray to a dark-skinned, vociferous lady whom I had encountered at a Ghanaian eating place, popularly known as Auntie B’s Chop Bar. The young and beautiful Ashanti lady I wooed agreed to be my friend.
I shall call her Gertrude. After some time, Gertrude moved to where I was staying. Being illiterate, she was supposed to be mellow. When later I got to know her well, she revealed a lot of vicissitudes she had gone through in life, and the sort of men she had been with, including pilots, policemen, teachers, medical doctors, among others.
I provided for her needs and I was prepared to marry her, on condition that she stopped smoking and drinking Ogogoro, or stopped dressing up every evening and going to late Fela’s Shrine at Ikeja. She was very beautiful, very noisy and flamboyant and excessively social. I saw that she respected me a lot for my strong moral character and education, but I found her a very hard nut to crack.
My friends were very jealous of her, and my Nigerian neighbours did not approve of her, as they asked me if I did not have sober women in my home town to choose from. To be frank, I had the hell of my life living with the Ghanaian lady I had picked from an eating place in Lagos. I think I shall here save the story of Gertrude till another time as it will fill a whole novel.
(I hope Paa Kwesi Mintah will not come after me with his cudgel and mental scalpel to skin my scalp with his acerbic aspersions, for, we all have some skeletons in our cupboards, don’t we? I parted company with Gertrude, the strange Ghanaian lady in 1988, when she relocated to Ghana to her hometown, about 60 kilometres north of Kumasi.
The last time I saw her was in 1991 when she had a set of male twins by someone else. I heard of a story of a Ghanaian who went to a very remote part of the Amazon river in Brazil. He was told there was a black woman living in the area. When he was shown the place, he was shocked to learn that the woman was a Fante woman like himself. Those Ghanaians in Nigeria who trekked on foot to Libya in the Sahara Desert (the Mungo Parks and David Livingstones of this world) were reported to have come across some Ghanaian women prostitutes in unlikely places such as Gao, Timbuctoo in Mali and Agadir on the margins of the desert.
Some young conmen in Ghana lured beautiful girls to Lagos and they used dubious means to give them foreign passports, other than Ghanaian passports, to send them to Canada. On one occasion, one of the girls was held up at Madrid Airport for questioning. She was half-literate. When asked what she was going to do in Canada, she replied, ‘I am going to do politics in Canada.’
She had meant to say that she was going to seek political asylum in Canada. In the 80s and 90s, most Ghanaians abroad sought political asylum as they reported that the Rawlings regime was persecuting them. I met some of such people in Lagos, under the care of UNHCR. Some of the young girls trafficked to Lagos, ended up being stranded for months on end, in run-down hotels and eventually, out of hardship and frustration, some became prostitutes.
It was very sad indeed to see very young and beautiful Ghanaian ladies, some well educated, ending up in the hands of conmen who deceived them into believing that they were being ferried to El-dorado in Canada, via a temporary transit camp in Lagos. Why do some ladies fall prey to prostitution?
Is it the easy way out? We know that myriad problems, physical, social, economic and emotional, do assail them. Girls are vulnerable as they easily attract the attention of the opposite sex. If they do not do well at school, they easily give up and they plan to have the easy way out to make up for their deficiency.
Some girls in Ghana come from poor homes. On coming of age and completing their education, they may journey from their villages to the cities to live with relatives while looking for employment. It is in the city that they get over- exposed and they fall prey to sugar daddies and young men, who only want to use them and dump them (hit-and-run guys).
This can escalate into many unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The girls have desire to buy nice clothes, eat good food and socialise in five star hotels or drive the latest cars. Due to peer pressure and the desire to help their extended families, they may fall into prostitution in order to make quick bucks. People from the Gomoa area in Fanteland and the Kwahu area in Ashanti, are aware of Gomua Two Weeks and Kwahu Easter, respectively.
The girls will like to go back home on such occasions looking chic. They may prostitute in order to earn enough money to help pay school fees of their younger sibling back home, or to send remittances to their aged parents or help renovate the living quarters of their parents. So, we can see that unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, peer pressure, greed, sexual pleasure and lack of high morals are the causes of prostitution anywhere in the world. Homophiliacs are women whose sexual appetite is so huge that one man can satisfy them.
Such women become prostitutes. Likewise, men become peripatetic philanderers. Prostitutes are looked down upon with scorn in Ghana, yet they are part of us, and deserve our sympathies. They need to be sympathised with because in most cases, they are victims of severe and austere circumstances, and of course it takes two to tango.
Behind every prostitute are numerous male customers, some well-heeled members of the society. There are girls who have single parents (their mothers), as their fathers neglected them or they divorced their mothers. When girls are neglected, they are more vulnerable than boys. Boys may fall prey to drugs, armed robbery and hooliganism. We need to have social interventions to support and rehabilitate prostitutes in Ghana.
In Zambia, they are called Hule.
Prostitutes run the risk of suffering from diseases such as fistula, cervical cancer, STDs and STIs, contracting HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and sometimes, being physically assaulted. In Lagos, one of my Ghanaian teacher friends lived in a place called Ketu. He told me that one day; the Ghanaian prostitutes in his area were all sitting in front of their rooms, outside in the open, waiting for customers.
One male customer came and went inside with one of the ladies. After he was supposedly done and gone, they called their friend but she was not responding. They rushed inside her room only to behold the ghastly spectacle that she was in a pool of blood, with her private part cut off and missing. Such a great risk! Prostitutes need to have some form of social insurance, as well as some form of medical care, as they are prone to many sexually transmitted infections such as chancre, gonorrhea, syphilis, among others.
Condom use is not foolproof in orgasmistic circumstances. Recently, it is on record that remittances from abroad to Ghana have reached record levels of about 2.5 billion dollars a year. Some of these remittances come from Ghanaian prostitutes outside the country in places such as Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Burkina Faso, Turkey, Cote d’ Voire, Nigeria, Liberia, UK and Germany. Prostitution is illegal in Ghana.
A study conducted by the International Organisation for Migration and published on 12th April 2013, reveals that there are between 40,000 to 50,000 prostitutes in Ghana with 90% being the mobile kind, and 10% being sedentary or fixed in one place. The latter live in brothels and tend to be older. The former type, who are mobile, are highly susceptible to HIV/AIDS infection. They move about to places like Tema, Techiman and Kumasi on the Tema-Paga route. These roamers are dangerous as they are carriers of HIV/AIDS.
However, it was noted that prostitutes in Ghana encourage the use of condoms and they do carry packs for their job, and they ensure you pay upfront and they are the ones to enrobe you with the condom as a precaution against being short-changed. Some investigative journalism has been done by veterans such as Anas Amereyaw Anas and Fati Shaibu Ali.
Their investigations show that in Accra, a prostitute can make as much as the equivalent of 100 dollars a night or more, depending on the clients. Thus, prostitution is a hidden gold mine waiting to be exploited, they concluded in their report.
Prostitutes are easily identified in Red light areas and street corners at night, dressed in suggestive clothes, with heavy make-ups and wielding their trademark bags of indescribable contents, and of course tugging on some cigarette, with heavy lay on aromatic perfumes. We were intrigued in the late 70s at the University of Ghana where at Volta Hall, whenever we went visiting, we found many posh cars packed there, by ostensibly rich and famished patrons who had come to service some of our university girls.
We were also told that some of our varsity girls often travelled to Lome in Togo at the weekends to practise prostitution in some of the 5 star hotels there, where they used to hold many international conferences. Empirical work which has been done on Ghanaian prostitutes in Europe, shows that most of them are in Italy, where some are living in abject and wretched conditions.
It is known that some tourists come to Ghana to engage in sex-tourism. Well, since sex is a social issue, it is difficult to erect barriers around it. It is a reciprocal act as Ghanaian males abroad may also patronize some sex workers. Behind every prostitute, there are seemingly many decent men. In Ghana, prostitution is perceived to be rife in urban and rural areas such as Krobo Odumase, Koforidua, Takoradi, Cape Coast, Tema, Nyakrom and Kumasi.
In the city, many rural urban migrants lose their strict rural moral values and they become anomie or nondescript city dwellers. It is not uncommon for poor parents in the cities to rush their teenage girls into child prostitution so that they can earn income for them. This is where the danger of teenage pregnancies becomes high. In my own town of Winneba, where we have the University of Winneba, the large vibrant student population is driving up the incidence of prostitution because of high incidence of poverty and youth unemployment.
Among many tribes in Ghana now, pre-marital sex is no more a worrying issue. With social networks on the boom, such as Facebook, What’s up, Twitter, LinkedIn, it is becoming increasingly easy for people to network and practise e-prostitution. Improvement in information communication technology (ICT) has led to easy hook-ups, with m-prostitution also on the upsurge, through the use of cell phones.
Until the twin problems of youth unemployment and abject poverty are resolved, the incidence of prostitution in Ghana will worsen. Nonetheless, prostitution is as old as Adam and it cannot be totally eradicated but attempts to deal with it will drive it underground. Some EU countries have legalized prostitution and they are called sex workers or social assistants.
1. NGOs and Churches should provide intervention for identified prostitutes, by rehabilitating them through skills training and education.
2. We should campaign vigorously against human trafficking.
3. We should increase access to education for the girl child to reduce the high drop- out rate among girls.
4. We should encourage families in Ghana to embed and deepen family values.
5. Patrons of prostitutes should also be arrested and punished
6. IOM should help Ghanaian prostitutes abroad to relocate to Ghana. This may, however, drop GDP in some countries.
7. Parents should try to provide for their girl child.
8. Some prostitute returnees are seen to have acquired a lot of material wealth such as cars, clothes, suitcases, buildings and money so much so that some ignorant and illiterate mothers encourage their daughters to follow the lead of those successful returnees. We should, therefore, spread the word and tell them the truth, discouraging them to send their daughters abroad at the flimsiest excuse of going to seek greener pastures, and then they fall on hard times and become prostitutions.
In 1967, whilst at the teacher training college at Komenda, I was enthralled by reading the book, Cry the Beloved Country, written by South African novelist, Alan Paton. The book started something like this, ‘All roads lead to Johannesburg. They go and never return to the village hearth’. The main character in the book was Reverend Stephen Kumalo, who had trudged all the way to Johannesburg (Egoli or City of Gold), from rural Ndotseni in Natal, in search of his long gone sister and son.
Gertrude, Reverend Kumalo's sister, was living in a squalid, crime-infested area called Sophiatown, brewing illicit gin and selling it to thousands of miners who also patronized her sex trade. One acquaintance of Reverend Kumalo, Reverend Msimangu, was economical with the truth as he spoke euphemistically that his sister was seriously ill.
Reverend Kumalo did not know that it was a different kind of illness, of social sickness of prostitution, lechery, debauchery, drugs, crime and being on the fast lane of life. Do our young folk read books enough these days? We have to revive the reading culture among them, for, in novels such as Cry the Beloved Country, we acquire gems of knowledge to guide us through our lives.
In Zambia where I live, we have a company called Zambeef which sells Zambeef, Zammilk, Zamchic. There are hot chics in Zambia but one has got to be careful because of HIVAIDS. Perhaps, one has to have life assurance with Zamsure before taking the risk of bedding any Zamchic operating in the red light zone.
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