Young and Vulnerable: Girl Child ProstitutionJanuary 4th, 2022
As is the case in many countries, child prostitution is rife in Uganda. Although both boys and girls are engaged in selling sexual activities for money, the issue is more widespread among girls. But why are they engaged in these activities and what can be done to stop the practice? Atim Desire Ednah, a 16 year old correspondent from Uganda, believes the issue can be addressed with appropriate laws and the help of the government.
An estimated 18,000 children are involved in child prostitution in Uganda, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). While society has gone through different stages of development including the recognition of child rights, sadly, this has not resulted in a dwindling in cases of child prostitution – defined by the International Labour Organization as the use of girls and boys in sexual activities, often remunerated in cash or kind.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children continues to be one of the most hidden, complex and corrosive forms of child labour persisting in Uganda today. As outlined in the definition, the situation affects both girls and boys, but reports suggest girls are particularly more vulnerable in this regard. No longer are brothels a place for women in their twenties and older, they have become plagued by underage girls being pushed into awful acts. Yet, the government has seemingly turned a blind eye to it all.
When examining the concept of child prostitution, one might contemplate whether it is condition-driven or a choice for the girl child in Uganda. The term itself implies the latter and the idea that the children are not bothered by the notion of selling their bodies for some money – that they have merely opted to live life this way. However, this is far from the truth, especially in Uganda.
The UNFPA highlights that there is a common factor of insufficiency or poverty that often leads to children participating in prostitution. To support this, it outlined in its report a quote from a 15-year-old girl: “But if my mother calls me and tells me that, ‘my daughter, I need money’ and feel need is overwhelming (and I do not have the money) I go and sell sex.” Note, not every underprivileged girl is a prostitute, but the vice is categorically cited among poor households, primarily in slums and urban dwellings across the country.
At such a young age, these children, who are often my peers, are cruelly subjected to the negative consequences of child prostitution, including but not limited to: sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancies, trauma and loss of confidence. The UNFPA situation analysis for Uganda echoes this, outlining that “adolescents engaged in commercial sex are susceptible to adverse social, community, family, and individual risk factors.”
But despite child prostitution being rife in Uganda and having consequences that, in my view, no human being should be subjected to, it is not explicitly criminalized. Though prostitution itself is prohibited by the Penal Code Act 2007, it is hardly ever enforced by the Government of Uganda. Additionally, there is no specific mention of the matter as it relates to children. Therefore, child prostitution and its massive implications continue to be a scourge in Uganda, creating public health issues alongside economic, social and cultural pressures.
Still, something can be done to improve this situation. I believe the government must urgently consider and implement specific laws on child commercial sex.
Furthermore, it can tackle the vice by raising awareness nationwide, increasing the level of education that people have on the matter, and perhaps better allocating resources to prevent those in destitute situations from being subjected to child prostitution. This can be done through government programmes from the relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Education and Sports or Ministry of Gender, Social and Economic Development.
If the Ugandan government is serious about ridding the country of child prostitution, or at least reducing its prevalence and consequences, it must act now.
Photo Credit: Canva
About Atim Desire Enah: I am interested in becoming a neurosurgeon. I enjoy reading Ben Carson’s books such as Gifted Hands. I also love writing. Last year the Daily Monitor, a local newspaper, published my article on COVID-19. In my free time, I enjoy jogging, watching cartoons and listening to gospel music.