27 March 2008

Ghana: A Glance At Prostitution

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Accra — Prostitution has become a high-profile issue of late. "Child prostitution" and "whether prostitution should be legalized" are some of the issues on top of this discussion.

Already, a lot has been said about child prostitution and from all indications, cross-sections of the general public are against child prostitution. Now, the debate seems to be centered on whether prostitution should be legalized or not. Many arguments have been advanced for and against this notion by both scholars and the lay alike.

And within these groups, there are divergent opinions as to whether prostitution should be legalized or not. But before this subject is discussed, let us take a look at this phenomenon of prostitution. Prostitution is regarded as sex for money. Also, prostitution can be considered as any sexual services in exchange for payment of cash. In Ghana, prostitution is defined by section 279 of the Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29) as amended by Act 554 to "include the offering by a person of his body commonly for acts of lewdness (sex) payment although there is no act of ordinary sexual connection."

On the other hand, the tenth edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines a prostitute as "a person typically a woman, who engages in a sexual activity for payment." The terms "hooker," and "whore" are some of the slang expressions for prostitutes. However, in recent times, "sex worker" has become the preferred term for prostitute. The term "sex work" (from the one who coined it, Carol Leigh) does not refer to only prostitution, but it also includes all forms of paid sexual encounters, which include but not limited to porn videos, phone sex operators, escorts, exotic or lap dancers, and strippers.

There are also a range of names for people, usually men, who pay for sexual encounters like "client," "hobbyist" and "monger". Closely related to this phenomenon are the terms brothel, pimps and madams. From the same Dictionary, the word brothel means "a house where men visit prostitutes". Whilst a pimp refers to "a man who controls prostitutes and arranges clients for them, taking a percentage of their earnings in return", madam refers to "a female brothel-keeper." In brief, this is the phenomenon that some people are arguing for its legalization.

Why prostitution should be legalized.

Proponents of the legalization of prostitution over the years have given reasons to substantiate their claims. Among some of the reasons given is the fact that when prostitution is legalized, it would reduce the spread of HIV since it is one of the modes of transmission. Also, it would reduce the number of prostitutes as well as the rate of infection in the long term. Again, it would enable the government to control and avert child prostitution. Besides, it would greatly reduce incidents of certain criminal acts such as rape, defilement, sexual intimidation and other sexual vices. Moreso, it would help prostitutes to undergo periodic medical checks and even pay social premiums allowing them to benefit from welfare in times of need. Furthermore, it would help control or regulate prostitution easily.

The reason given is that without necessarily legalizing the profession, it could be decriminalized for the practitioners who are currently practising under cover to come out to be provided with the necessary protection against the infection. Thus, these prostitutes shall be subjected to periodic HIV test to make sure that none of them practises prostitution while infected, and if a licensed prostitute becomes infected her license will be withdrawn. Additionally, it would make it easy for those involved to be identified, counseled and offered an alternative livelihood. Moreover, these proponents argue that these realities must be considered instead of morality which has been the main point of their opponents.

Counter arguments

These points raised above by the proponents may seem logical at the first glance. However, from all indications, their conclusion relies upon assumptions for which there are no obvious proofs. For instance, it is not well convincing that legalization of prostitution would significantly reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, thereby making the fight against the spread somewhat easier. This is because as at the time this debate became heated in Ghana in 2005, (publications on this same issue appeared in the Daily Graphic on the 7th April & 22nd June and also in the Ghanaian Times 9th April, 2005 editions) the prevalence rate was 3.6%. Three years without legalizing prostitution, the prevalence rate is now 1.9%. What then are the evidences to prove that legalization of prostitution is the answer? Or have all the mechanisms explored to reduce the prevalence rate been exhausted such that the current prevalence rate of 1.9% (the Daily Graphic, 28th February 2008 edition) can further come down or be eliminated only when prostitution is legalized? Also, as we are aware, Africa is the worst hit insofar as HIV/AIDS is concerned. But is there any country in Africa whose prevalence rate was very high and after it had legalized prostitution, the spread of the virus had stopped completely? If there are countries in Africa that legalized prostitution and it has led to the improvement and not the total elimination of HIV/AIDS, then Ghana is far better because prostitution is not legalized but the prevalence rate has improved significantly.

Moreover, it would not be far from right to presume that if prostitution is legalized, it would become a yardstick for a lot of people to indulge in sex without protecting themselves. This is because the perception by most people on unprotected sex has not changed. For instance, men who have not been patronizing condoms argue that "how can one eat toffee with the wrapper on?" If this is the perception of most people about the use of condom, then the legalization of prostitution would neither solve the problem nor change their perception. Instead, it would goad more people to indulge in sex with most of them having unprotected sex which is one of the commonest ways of spreading the virus.

Besides, what is the probability that prostitutes would compel their clients to use condom if prostitution is legalized? For instance, it was reported that out of the 14 children caught last month at Soldier Bar in Accra, three of them were pregnant and three were nursing mothers. The question is: if these children or their clients used condom, how come they became pregnant? Also, since most of them claimed that they got into this practice because of money; won't some of them have unprotected sex with their clients who offer them huge sums of money?

Furthermore, now that Ghana has struck oil, one can assume that there would be more money in the economy. Therefore, legalizing prostitution would attract many people into this profession in a bid to make quick money. Knowing the fact that time is money, most of these prostitutes would have less time for counseling because they want more money. In this sense, would the aims of legalizing prostitution be achieved? I am not by this denying the fact that prostitution is not one of the modes of transmitting the virus. In fact it is, but not in such exaggerated manner which merits legalization. From the above, the problem is not about legalizing prostitution, rather it is education.

Again, I wonder how legalizing prostitution can avert child prostitution. The reason has been that the age of marriage in Ghana for girls is sixteen. Assuming that prostitution is legalized, would the age be maintained such that girls who are sixteen in Ghana can become prostitutes? If girls at school going age can join a profession which requires no formal training and live such promiscuous lifestyles, then it can be assumed that our campaign for Girl-Child Education would be a fiasco. We would have laboured over the years in vain because those below age sixteen could falsify their age in order to live just like their peers.

Also, the argument that if prostitution is legalized it would help to identify and control those involved is a so-so one. The reason has been that there are many prostitutes who are not Ghanaians. And legalizing prostitution in Ghana would let many foreign prostitutes come to Ghana since they cannot be prevented from entering the country on the basis of their profession.

When this happens, won't it put pressure on the limited resources of the government in the fight against this HIV/AIDS pandemic? Moreover, if the licenses of those who become affected are withdrawn, would that prevent them from prostitution? Won't they practice it in their homes instead of brothels since they would have become addicted?

Additionally, proponents who argue that reality should be considered instead of morality should note that "the end does not justify the means". As Lord Patrick Devlin opines, criminal law is based on moral principle and it enforces morality. It is out of this same morality that practices such as rape, defilement, murder, armed robbery among others are seen as criminal activities. If we are using reality as an argument here, then it should be noted that there are thousands of people in Ghana who are unemployed. Some even have good certificates but cannot find jobs.

If these people can survive through armed robbery, what crime have they committed? Are we arguing that because they are unemployed, they should rob to survive? What is wrong is wrong! You can't right a wrong. We cannot achieve a good result through a bad means. If the attention of the world is geared towards realities without any room for morality, then the world cannot continue to be an environment for human survival.

Again, let us consider this scenario. Three parents have met and they are boasting of the profession of their children. The first parent said: "Oh! My daughter is a teacher." The second one said: "mine is a pharmacist". Assuming that prostitution is legalized and the third parent's daughter is a prostitute, can she say with an air of pride that: "my daughter is a prostitute by profession?" What impression would the others form about her? Would legalization change the perception of Ghanaians about this profession? Will those proponents be happy after paying huge sums of money as school fees only for their children to tell them that they would like to be prostitutes, a profession which does not demand payment of fees and formal tutoring? Perhaps, these are the realities we must also consider if we would like to legalize prostitution.

Aids doesn't exist because of prostitution

Moreover, we should remember that AIDS does not exist because of prostitution. Hence, legalization of prostitution because of HIV/AIDS would lead to many problems and compound the already existing challenges we would like to surmount. More importantly, those who claim that they join this profession because of poverty must be asked the following questions: "how long have they been in that profession and what have they done with the money they have got so far?" According to a GTV news cast on 29th February 2008 at 7pm, the reporter who reported on the Soldier Bar issue said that it was alleged that some of the prostitutes got 20 clients per night. If this is true, then I guess these people are making a lot of money, hence they should have quit this profession by now to establish themselves in other businesses. Although I am not denying the fact that poverty can engender one to indulge in this practice, some of the prostitutes are lazy. This explains why there is the need for education which is the cheapest and most effective way to ameliorate this challenge. Legalization of prostitution is definitely not the answer.

The Way forward

To this effect our education on HIV/AIDS should be geared towards matters which are making the fight more difficult. Such factors include but not limited to the attitude of the people. It could be realized that one of the challenges of fighting the menace now is the unwillingness of people to change their attitudes. For instance, some men and women have just decided to live as prostitutes and they are spread the virus through this means. Some also think that: "all death is death" so if they die out of HIV/AIDS, what is the matter? Others are also of the view that once they were infected by some people, they should also infect others with it.

This problem can be solved through education. And here, the role of Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) cannot be overlooked. Although one cannot not make absolute claim about religion and moral issues such as good behavior, respect for laws, loving one another, faithfulness among others, it does not denying the fact that most people are morally upright because of their religious beliefs. But one may argue: "there are many corrupt people found in these FBOs?"

Yes, there are many of them because the meeting place of the various FBO are not sanctuary of angels only but also places of convergence, where sinners meeting for transformation. Either than that what would be the significance of Easter and other religious festivals? We must appreciate the role FBOs are playing in regards to attitudinal change of the members of the community and give them the necessary support in order for them to do even more in other areas of human enterprise. Also, one of the ways in which we can fight against this pandemic is to encourage people to go for the HIV antibody test. This is because a lot of people may be living with the virus but may not know and therefore they may be spreading it unknowingly.

To this effect issues such as stigmatization, fear and misconception about HIV/AIDS which are making it impossible for people to test for their HIV status must be addressed.

Once all of us, no matter ones standing in the society (prostitutes and non-prostitutes alike) test for our HIV status, it would give the true reflection of the pandemic so that workable plans by policy makers could be drawn to fight the menace effectively. Besides, it would also afford those who may be living with the virus the opportunity to seek medical attention. I believe when these challenges are addressed, we could be assured of fighting a winning battle against HIV/AIDS rather than legalizing prostitution.

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