NIGER: Food crisis
drives young women to sell their bodies
12 Sep 2005 15:56:22 GMT
NIAMEY, 12 September (IRIN) - Ide can have sex with Mariam, a
novice on the Niamey night scene, several times for only two or
three dollars. "The most important thing for her is having
something to put in the cooking pot the next day," he said.
Mariam is among a wave of young women recently taking to the
streets of the Niger capital to sell their bodies to buy food
for their families.
"I have to do it in order to eat," said Hajara, 16, as she
walked along Rue de la Joie or "Pleasure Drive", in skin-tight
jeans and t-shirt, constantly popping chewing gum as she spoke.
All the young women insist that their real names not be used.
Sometimes Hajara has to be with four or more clients a night,
which bothers her. "But we have to put up with it. It is with
the money we earn here that we support our families – well, at
least we can help them. And it allows us to clothe and feed
Finding enough to eat is a problem every lean season in
landlocked Niger, ranked last of 177 countries in the UN's human
development index for 2005. But this year – in the aftermath of
2004's locusts and drought that wreaked havoc across the arid
Sahel – regions of the country have been gripped with widespread
Millions of families have lost their livestock, their
livelihoods, their every survival mechanism. For these young
women, survival can be found in the city streets at night.
Nigeriens have seen this "seasonal" prostitution during lean
periods in the past.
"During the famines of 1974 and 1984, the same phenomenon was
seen in Niger's cities," says Hamadou Hassa, a man in his 70s
living on the outskirts of Niamey. "As soon as the famine is
over, this type of prostitution will diminish for sure."
He adds that he understands the girls' position. "Don't blame
these girls out of hand. In the face of famine, it is extremely
difficult to have dignity."
Aicha Idrissa, a seller in a Niamey market, also empathises with
"I'm shocked to see these young women give themselves over to
prostitution to survive," she said. "But on the other hand, I
understand them. They have been forced by their situation."
But other compatriots are less forgiving.
Halilou Bakwaye, a union leader in Niamey, would like to see the
authorities to clean up the streets. "The government must put in
place a vice squad to round up these young prostitutes and their
clients," he said. "These practices, even if they are temporary,
must change and immediately."
Some lament the practice as an affront to Islam, in a country
that is about 90 percent Muslim.
Hajara said she is forced to sell herself, despite that it is
humiliating and against her religion.
"It's not with pleasure that I do this work," she said.
"Tradition, Islam and even just plain common sense forbid a
woman to sell her body. Today, I feel shamed to my very core,"
she said. "But we left our village; we are without any
resources. We lost two cows, three sheep and five goats to the
Hajara said her fiancé awaits her in her village; she plans to
marry as soon as she can return there.
Many of the young women work as domestic servants by day,
changing into their snug, revealing clothes to walk the streets
"I'm employed as a maid at the home of an expatriate couple who
pay me 20,000 francs CFA (US $37)," tall, light-skinned Sitta
says, in between greetings to passing men she hopes to lure.
"They feed me, true – but my salary is too little to meet my
family's needs. That's why you see me here," she says.
But Sitta insists her health is not for sale.
"Above all I preserve my health," she says. "I refuse to have
sex without a condom. I've seen cases of AIDS here in Niamey and
for all the gold in the world I would not contract that
Just recently, she says, she turned down an offer of 10,000
francs CFA ( US $18) to sleep with a man without protection.
Hajara walks up and down the street, complaining that clients
are scarce this particular evening.
"Since I arrived tonight, not one man has approached me. Yet,
I've put on my makeup, I'm well-dressed….Yesterday, I did a good
job. I was able to bring 5,000 CFA francs (US $9) home."
Meanwhile Ide does another pass around the block on his
motorbike looking for Mariam, his current favourite. He says he
has not found another that satisfies him like her, so he will
wait her out.
After sex and an exchange of a few dollars, he'll be on his way,
and Mariam and her family will be assured of at least something
to put in the cooking pot.