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Friday, June 14, 2024

Love for sale?

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With Aisha Jallow

The other day I read about a court case where a Nigerian woman, Jenifer Ozuem, was convicted on two counts of trafficking and importation of persons.

The judgement was delivered by Justice Ebrima Jaiteh of the High Court in Banjul. Jenifer Ozuem is alleged to have, in July, 2021 at Lamin, engaged in the trafficking of a Nigerian woman into The Gambia for the purposes of exploiting her into prostitution at Class One Lodge in Dippa Kunda and some other places. The second count alleged that Jenifer Ozuem, imported the victim into The Gambia with intent that she will be forced into prostitution at Class One Lodge or anywhere in The Gambia.

There is a saying that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. That could be debated, but I’m sure that prostitution has been a necessity for many women since the beginning of humanity. She might not have any option but to offer the only thing she has that no-one can steal from her – her body. If a woman is not protected by her family or her husband, she is an easy prey for men who allow their lust to overcome their common sense. Too many blame the women for selling their bodies, but have they ever considered what options those women have? Prostitutes are frown upon, but for what reason? Do other women fear that their own husbands are tempted by the prostitutes and they dislike them for that? The blame should always be on the men, because if there would not be any demand of the services the prostitutes are offering, there would be no market.

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In societies where you have strict rules for extramarital sex, there is always a larger market for the prostitution. When nature calls, many men are answering. The sexual drive is not easy to resist, neither for men or women. The one who believes that women don’t have a sexual drive, needs to re-learn. We feel the same way, but need to be more careful as long as we are fertile. During the years of fertility, the sexual drive is the strongest for women. That has nothing to do with a lack of morality, but everything to do with the fact that women are only fertile a certain number of years. That is how women are created, so who are we to debate with the great Creator? Men can become fathers until they are very old, but when women have gone through menopause there is no way back.

What I find so sad and appalling with the court case I told you about, in the beginning of this essay, is that it was a woman who imported another woman to The Gambia. I don’t think that the poor importee was told that she has to be in the trade of prostitution when she arrived in The Gambia. So many women are desperate for work so they can earn money and support their families. This desperation is used by people who have no conscience at all. The poor victims for the other’s greed are mainly considered as goods. They are not thought of as humans with emotions and needs. Those who use other’s desperation for their own needs always find ways to justify their actions. They convince themselves that they are “helping” these poor women.

You might ask why I think it is worse that a woman lured the other woman into prostitution. Yes, I find it worse because the perpetrator should have felt compassion for the victim. There is another saying, that there is a certain place in Hell for women who don’t show solidarity with other women. Luring a fellow human being, of the same gender, into a trade that comes with so many risks is unforgivable. The fear of getting beaten up by the customers, the fear of getting a sexually transmitted disease, the fear of exclusion from the society, the fear that their families might hear about their profession is something that is easy to understand and unforgivable to make someone else to go through.

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When I began to do some research for this essay, I found some interesting information that I wish to share with you.

Human trafficking in The Gambia covers ongoing activities in trafficking women and children for forced labour and prostitution. So, we can see that it is not only a matter of women who are trafficked, but also children! Who are protecting these children in their home countries? Obviously, they are not protected enough, they get kidnapped or lured with promises of gifts, food and money. It is not easy for these children to resist these temptations, and when they are in place in The Gambia it is too late. They have no money so they will be able to go back home, they are vulnerable and afraid, easy to suppress.

Being a victim of trafficking is not only a matter of prostitution, it is also a matter of forced labour. The women and children who are forced to work have no rights at all. They will hardly get paid, don’t get enough food and are many times beaten and abused. Slavery still exists, and nowadays the Masters are not white people. Isn’t it sad that the history is repeated over and over again? Fear and pain feel the same, no matter who is the victim of that. It is like an endless chain of suffering that began a very long time ago, and it doesn’t seem to have an end. As long as we don’t react and demand a change, the suffering will only keep on.

There is also another part in this case of suffering, and that is the boys who are sent to live with Koranic teachers or marabouts. They are supposed to learn the Holy Qur’an by heart, but have many times been forced to beg on the streets and give that money to the marabout. If the boys haven’t been able to get money enough, they got beaten and abused. Imagine the fear these boys felt; sent away from a home far away, living with unknown people, completely dependent on the marabout. How will it be possible to learn the message of love and compassion while the boys live in fear? How is it possible to learn anything on an empty stomach? The place where the boys live are poorly equipped, the streets where they roam are dirty and dangerous. Thank God that this kind of “education” is declining as the security forces now routinely interrogate the marabout of any beggar they find in the streets.

The Gambia is a source, transit, and destination country for this type of exploitation; trafficking in to prostitution and forced labour. The Government of The Gambia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The lack of funding and resources is the main reason. The government acknowledges that trafficking exists, and that is one step in the right direction. The law enforcement has anti-trafficking and/or child protection units. The work must go on to prevent trafficking and also to help the victims. The solidarity must always be with the weak and vulnerable.

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