- A few days before the World Aids Day was celebrated today, Gambian authorities demonstrated their intolerance towards the high spate of prostitution in the Muslim country. The tourism industry in The Gambia has attracted government-licensed prostitutes from the entire region.
Gambian security forces were deployed to crack down on prostitutes in brothels and hotels in the urban areas in the early hours of the morning a few days ago. During the operation, over 80 prostitutes, 31 of who are Gambians were arrested and incarcerated in prison.
According to informed sources, the arrested prostitutes included nationals of Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. The arrest was said to be well-timed because it happened when prostitutes - otherwise called commercial sex workers - were just about to start their night business.
While arrested Gambians were said to be incarcerated in the state central prison in Mile II, non-Gambians were detained at an immigration post in Jeshwang, about 10 kilometres from Banjul, the capital.
It was speculated that non-Gambian arrested prostitutes were to be deported, which used to be the case in The Gambia earlier. This however was flatly denied by immigration officials.
"None of the arrested women were deported," the official spokesperson at the Immigration Department, Officer Commanding Lamin Jatta bluntly said. "As we continue on our investigations, the suspects have been granted bail."
Crack-downs on prostitutes have been a common phenomenon in The Gambia. With a 95 percent Muslim population, religious scholars have always used the podium to instigate attacks on brothels that harbour prostitutes in the country.
Right activists have always blamed The Gambia for commercialising sex trade but at the same time keep harassing sex workers.
"The government issued them with licenses, health certificates and asked them to access medical services regularly, so why does the same government harass commercial sex workers," argued an activist in The Gambia.
At a recent conference in The Gambia, prostitutes scolded their colleagues for patronising men who refused to wear condom after they abandoned them. "If my clients want skin-to-skin, I will not hesitate to entertain them," was the reply of one prostitute, who careless of contracting HIV/AIDS.
A 1998 study in The Gambia discovered that six prostitutes had become resistant to HIV/AIDS. This has been doubted by researchers, who are yet to find the reasons.
Gambian prostitutes not only are harassed by authorities. Some years back, a group of Gambian youths went wild and set fire to a number of brothels in the urban areas. In Brikama, a densely populated town located 30 kilometres from the capital, a radio announcement called on the youths by a council of elders to "flog girls" who wear below-the-knee-skirts. This led to several deaths.
The Gambia is a conservative society where elders want to safeguard the tradition and culture to their chest. They don't hesitate to be at war with anything that is on the contrary.
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