Whilst sex tourism is prevalent in the Ivory Coast I learn prostitution is a far wider issue with the legalisation and easy operating laws, it is no wonder so many women turn to this in desperation. Since the war in 2011 a significant increase in prostitution has been recorded, with many women struggling to find work and low employment rates. Sadly this is not always an income choice and many children are also being subject to the sex industry, children are being bought overseas some coming from as close as neighbouring boarders to be bought as slaves. Typically victims to such abuse are aged between 10 - 21, this is an organised affair where children will be managed by pimps and made to provide services to clients. Ivory Coast currently has one of the highest rates of sex slavery amongst children in the world along with other West African countries.
The government recognised the need for prostitution in order to earn a living, (shame they can't recognise more of their real needs) and legalised it. This meant that it became lawful for money to be exchanged in return for sex and only for those 18 years or above. As part of the legalisation women are required to hold a permit to which they will have certain operating restrictions and regular Aids and sexual health tests but I am yet to find evidence of who enforces this when I discover over 50% of the women have HIV or Aids. This does make it difficult to earn with the wiser traveller being cautious of this. Most of their work will be picked up by foreigners or business men making brief visits to areas like the business district in Abidjan. Brothels are still not legalised meaning the majority of the hotels are accustomed to the regular night visitor. On average they will earn around 1,000CFA which is merely £2.00!! Admittedly I personally find it difficult to agree that prostitution is an acceptable alternative to earn a living despite my learning that finding work is very difficult. I do however have this perspective from a fortunate position and I could have different views under desperate circumstances.
I had to question whether I myself had been witness to this in operation when I was sat at Abidjan's main airport waiting for my flight. I notice sat opposite me a young couple around my age holding hands at a table, the girl was crying while her boyfriend tried consoling hugging and kissing her. I thought perhaps she was going on a flight far away and the prospect of being apart made her sad, some time later her boyfriend walked off and left the airport. Shortly after, arrivals was full when an elderly white man walked through, spotting him in the crowd I saw the girl gather her things wiping away her tears and run over to greet him with a big grin. They embraced each other, kissing like they had long awaited each other after some time apart. straight away I realised what the situation may be and understood better her earlier tears at parting her boyfriend. My heart sank as I watched her leave the airport wrapped around the old man, that I can only think is her next wage.
Whilst this new insight into prostitution startled me I was more concerned when I learnt about the incessant challenge of human trafficking of women and children which is widespread throughout Cote D'Ivoire. Women and girls are trafficked internally and transnationally for domestic service, forced street vending, and sexual exploitation. It is not necessarily a far or remote the journey they will embark on and can be as close as the next border or neighbouring country. I can't see any of this to the naked eye of course and as expected this is a very concealed and privatised operation that is not widely spoken about. Sexual activity is mostly seen as a private matter, making communities reluctant to act and intervene in cases of sexual exploitation. These attitudes make children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation with the attitude of turning a blind eye.
Traffickers of local children are often relatives or friends of the victim’s parents, sometimes promising parents that the children will learn a trade, but in reality often end up on the streets as vendors or sexual servants. Due to the current economic crisis many parents allow their children to be exploited on the quiet and will make arrangements to cover their tracks. Not all children are sold for trafficking and there are many kidnappings, when the child this is taken the identity change process and location change is done to illuminate traces of the child. The parents, close family alliances or the kidnappers are the first person in the abuse chain and rarely do they go further than taking a child and selling for a price.
The next link is the buyer of that child which more often will be directly by the 'pimp or 'trafficker themselves, sometimes another 3rd party will be involved to do this transaction but the less links possible the better chance they have of carrying it on. Once the transaction is complete and the child is purchased this is when they start to receive dividends so to speak, on his or her new purchase. Children are used and abused by their owners in many ways exploiting them physically, mentally steeling their innocence and sometimes turning them to a life long dependancy of staying on 'the game' which is now their only known safety. The government have no care facilities for foreign or domestic trafficking victims, discouraging victims from assisting in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offences.
Now having a better understanding of this and how the process is carried out I am now aware of a different form of pedophilia and how it's enablers use it as an income. I want to understand if this is something the government are onto preventing and stopping but not to my surprise Ivorian law does not prohibit all forms of human trafficking and have little understanding of the issue; Characterising children found in brothels on raids as voluntary prostitutes,” rather than assuming victims of human trafficking and rape. There is little money available or invested in this issue and it seems better left unreported and not a concern. The government does not spend money on any specialised training to law enforcement or border controls in dealing or spotting traffickers and little attempt is made to bring awareness to people of these undercover happenings and how to spot.
Besides the governments disinterest there are many charities and organisations around the world and particularly have great focus in Africa in the prevention and support of victims. Many are operating with the hope of creating greater awareness and offering support to communities to speak out and understand the impact each individual can have on keeping the sex industry so strong and lucrative.