Hearing the voices of child prostitutes in Ghana

Students and community members packed the Alumni Room to hear Georgina Yaa Oduro speak about her research on child prostitution in Ghana on April 10.

Oduro’s presentation, “Globalization and Child Prostitution in Ghana,” was the second event in the Global Lecture Series.

“We are defining globalization here as something that happens at an international scale,” said Oduro, adding she defined “child” as anyone under the age of 18 and “prostitute” as someone who engages in sex for money.

Oduro has not published her paper yet, but said for her research she interviewed 30 people – including 15 sex workers ranging in age from 14 to 17, three prostitutes who were 22, 28 and 34 and  two male pimps from a city near the coast in Ghana. All prostitution is illegal in Ghana.

Oduro’s background is in youths and sexuality and when she heard of the issue of child prostitution she wondered if it was possible to even get data.

“It is very interesting coming up with data for this phenomenon because it is an underground trade,” said Oduro, adding because of this, numbers vary. Results from studies range from 30,000 to 10 million child prostitutes in the world.

She was interested in the background of the children, outside factors, how they affect those involved, what can be done and who are the people who seek out child prostitutes, adding “initially – naïvely – I was thinking I was going to get some of these clients to talk to me.”

Oduro said even if children enter the trade willingly, it is still seen as trafficking because they are children. “It is expected that society is supposed to protect this child, so if this child is involved in sex work or prostitution it becomes highly problematic,” she added.

Oduro said in Ghana this topic is difficult to talk about because sex is considered a “taboo” by society and usually addressed through jokes, “yet it is happening everywhere.”

During her interviews, Oduro asked the girls multiple questions. She said psychologically, the girls said they try to hide their identity in society because they would be stigmatized and discriminated against, adding they also suffered verbal and emotional abuse from clients and were also sometimes used for sorcery.

They also reported damage to their pelvises, discs in their spine, contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and more.

As for coping mechanisms, Oduro said they typically use humor, adding in her tape recordings, one can hear the girls dancing or teasing each other. She added some rely on alcohol and only a few smoke.

The girls said peer pressure was “a strong theme” for getting them involved in sex work. Oduro said some of the girls said they were introduced by friends or family.

An audience member asked Oduro what she learned from the older sex workers.

Oduro said she asked the three older women she interviewed whether they had given advice to the girls. Two said they try to discourage them and one said she can’t stop them from becoming prostitutes but gives them advice about protection, such as using condoms.

Oduro said all of the girls she interviewed said condom use and STI screenings are irregular because there aren’t individual or youth clinics they can go to.

Oduro said once her paper is published, she is expects to go back to Ghana to report to her stakeholders on how they can better aid child prostitutes.

She said, “Social scientists are always [saying] that if you change one person, you still made an impact, because behavioral changes are very difficult.”

Oduro said when someone asked her why she chose to research this topic, she responded, “I’m a sociologist. Social issues, social problems are of interest to me and they reflect the other side of life. … Who cares for them? Who projects their voices?”

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