Poverty Tricks Ivorian Girls into Prostitution

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An atmosphere of ecstasy gripped the Rue de Princesse, a neighbourhood in Abidjan, on the night of Sunday, October 26, 2014 as poverty-afflicted teenage fun lovers and influential men converged to lavishly enjoy the weekend.

The setting, Rue de Princesse, is the major merrymaking street in Yopougon, a vulgar neighbourhood in Ivory Coast’s most popular city, Abidjan. The street is host to a series of bars and night clubs where young teenage girls and wealthy men meet to satisfy their financial and sensual desires.

The atmosphere on the street is transformed to a buzz as people savour locally made beer and dance to the beats of the local music genre dubbed “coupe decale” by artists like DJ Arafat, Lino Versace amongst others.

Inside the beer parlours and night clubs, young girls hang on to rich influential and at times pot-bellied men hoping to seduce them and grab gifts in return for sex. The stylish colourful lights expose very little of the dealings that take place on and around the dance floor. Gifts like jewelleries, smartphones and other gadgets exchange hands for sexual satisfaction.

“Some trade better marks with students here. You see that man over there with a blue tie, he lectures in the university and that is what he does here with his students. We call that ‘sexually transmitted grades’ and he has impregnated two girls less than 18years like that.” An eyewitness narrated.

Poverty and ignorance are said to be the root cause, driving young girls to enter into such agreements with men old enough to be their parents or grandparents. Parents on their part have failed to see anything wrong with the deals their children strike with such men, simply because they are poor and ignorant as well.

Nina Kra, a single mother and a journalist in Abidjan, told Reuters Foundation that “Mothers and fathers see their daughters with fancy new gadgets and jewellery, but they don’t say anything because the girls also pay the bills and do the shopping. It always ends in tears,”

Statistics indicate that 67 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 in Ivory Coast have had sex, second in West Africa only to Liberia with 70 percent, while the latest health surveys carried out by government show that only 4.8 percent of them use modern contraceptives like condoms.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, 129 adolescents in every 1,000 become pregnant in West Africa as a whole, ranking the region highest in the world, with a rate that more than doubles the global average of 50.

Many of these young mothers are forced into early marriage to avoid stigmatization. Some risk their lives giving birth in a region with the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, while others contract diseases.

The United Nations Children’s agency, UNICEF, reveals that more than 700million women alive today in the world have been married before their eighteenth birthday, while about 250 million are married before the age of 15.

The UNICEF data reveal alarming opinions about the acceptability of violence among girls. According to the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Geeta Rao Gupta, the figures disclose a mindset that tolerates, perpetuates and even justifies violence, particularly against the girl child.

“They should sound the alarm for everyone, everywhere” said Geeta.

According to Geeta Rao, “the problem is global but we must find solutions at the national level, at the community and family level. It is our responsibility to protect, educate adolescents and give them more resources. Ending violence against women is a responsibility of us all”.

UNFPA Regional Adviser in Dakar, Hugues Kone, said religious and traditional norms in the region had been challenged by secular trends of rapid urbanization, cultural heterogeneity and the spread of mass media, with devastating results.

“Across West Africa, the expansion of liberal social values resulting from globalisation has led to a decrease in the age that adolescents have sex for the first time. In many countries, at least one in four adolescent girls said they had sex for the first time before 15,” Kone said.

“However, adolescent girls are often not equipped with the knowledge needed to make healthy decisions about their sexuality and often face barriers to accessing essential services including family planning and to contraceptives,” he added.

UNICEF has set out specific measures to prevent acts of violence against girls. Among them are: the retention of girls in school, teaching the skills necessary for daily living; parenting support, including cash grants to reduce the risks for girls; changing attitudes and norms through a project at the community level dialogue; and strengthening judicial, penal and social systems and services.

By Jude Fuhnwi

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