- Arrested and detained on the eve of this year's international women's day, 42 Gambian sex workers were automatically excluded from the celebrations. And to add salt to their injury, the courts jailed them to serve a week in prison for violating section 167 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws vagabond and roguish life.
The convicted sex workers were among several women arrested and detained for loitering around in various brothels in Serekunda town, some 10 kilometres from the capital Banjul on 7 March, looking for male clients to patronise them.
The conviction followed that of last December, when 40 convicted prostitutes were asked by a regional court to keep peace for 12 months if they did not want to go to jail.
19 of the accused persons, who maintained their innocence, were remanded to allow the prosecution to investigate its case.
The cases were presided over by Magistrates Abdoulie Mbacke and Pa Harry Jammeh of Kanifing.
The courts pardoned two of the accused persons one of who is pregnant while the other breastfeeding. They were asked to keep peace.
Activists over the years have been blaming The Gambia government for legalising prostitution in practical terms, but later deciding to get hard on prostitutes in the form of arrests, detentions and harassments.
Gambian prostitutes themselves prefer to cry in silence, because going public means their security would be at risk. And knowing the conservative nature of the country's people, most people at night would associate with prostitutes but distance themselves from them by day.
Activists punched law enforcement agents for harassing only women and allow men who are patrons of the prostitutes to go scot-free. They accused police for arresting every woman found outside her home without questioning. After all, many of the women would be waiting for transport after they close from work at night, gender activists concurred.
A renowned Gambian gender activist, Amie Sillah, argued that it was disappointing to see The Gambia abusing women after ratifying the African Union Protocol on Women. She wondered why security forces keep harassing sex workers. "They are called sex workers, it may be morally ugly, but that is their trade," Ms Sillah had earlier told 'Foroyaa'.
She blamed the police for not arresting the male clients of the sex workers. Ms Sillah asked people to open avenues for women so that they don't go into a "dangerous and risky businesses" rather than harassing them. "If avenues are created and still people refuse to take them, then punishing them for risky trades can be justifiable."
Recently, a Gambian Magistrate ruled that prostitution had become unbecoming in the country, which equally contributes to the soaring rate of sexually transmitted infections. "We must therefore discourage the vice before it assumes a crisis proportion," Magistrate Moses Richards said while delivering a verdict on six sex workers.
He asked the six prostitutes to keep peace for 12 month. One of them had already spent a month in state central prison. The court found the six guilty of illegally wandering around a bar luring people to sex in an immoral manner. They all pleaded guilty to the charges.
Most of the sex workers said that prostitution was their last resort for survival. "My husband is deceased and he now left me with the onus of looking after four children. Life is definitely unbearable for me," a court heard the plea of a sex worker.
Some of the convicts were ashamed to the extent that they could not hold back tears rolling their cheeks.
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