Misanet.com / IPS, 21 January - Rights groups have stepped up pressure to combat the growing cases of pedophilia and child prostitution in Guinea. "Something shocking is going on in Conakry (the capital of Guinea) these days," says Hadja Djelo Barry, head of the Conakry-based Coordinating Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (CPTAFE).
- At night, at certain intersections, you can observe children street-walking, cruising for clients, she says. "Such acts of pedophilia are serious and unacceptable, especially in a Muslim country like Guinea. Barry is known for her campaign against female genital mutilation in Guinea, where the majority of the people are Muslims.
CPTAFE leaders, announcing their campaign on state-run television on 7 January, said they would target Conakry's suburbs of Coleah, Ratoma and the port area, which are often invaded by a horde of teenage girls and boys at nightfall. Their clients usually spirit them away, far from prying eyes, in vehicles.
Simon Togba, a waiter in a bar, told IPS: "One day, I saw a little girl at the Port of Conakry. She sold oranges and was really very, very young. I told her jokingly that I was going to marry her. I was really surprised when she showed up later that day at the warehouse which was our business's base of operations."
- We had no problem having sex, says Togba. "I could hardly believe that such a young girl could be so developed. I gave her 500 Guinean francs (less than a quarter of a dollar)."
- To combat this evil, CPTAFE has decided to undertake a similar campaign to the one conducted on female genital mutilation, explains Morissanda Kouyate, the committee's general secretary. "We are pleased to say that because of our anti-excision programme, hundreds of women for whom excision was a primary source of income have, with our help, thrown away their knives and taken up other occupations."
- Poverty is the cause of much of pedophilia, says Kouyate. "Some parents encourage their children to take up prostitution. It's very serious inasmuch as it not only destroys the child's life, but also exposes him or her to sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS."
Statistics provided by the National Anti-AIDS Programme show that Guinea, with a population of about seven million, had 9,000 HIV-positive individuals in the last half of 2001, but, according to a statistician, who requested anonymity, "this figure significantly underestimates the actual number of cases."
The average annual income in Guinea is 490 US dollars per head.
Aissatou Diallo, an occasional seamstress, says she has resorted to prostitution because she has no other choice. "No one is helping me. I'm obliged to do this work in order to meet my needs and those of my family. My father is dead and my mother is ill," says the 13-year-old sex worker.
Even though the situation is alarming, the government seems to have other priorities. "The tragedy is that figures on this phenomenon are often poorly kept or not kept at all, as is the case with pedophilia or child prostitution. They are tolerated but illegal in Guinea," says Barry.
Guinean lawyer, Macire Sylla says "Pedophilia is a crime. Therefore, it should be punished. And to effectively wipe it out, all these child marriages which are carried out based on 'tradition' should be halted too."
Many Liberian and Sierra Leonean girls, often war orphans with few other prospects, are also becoming sex workers. "In their fervour," a Guinean official claims "they are leading our compatriots astray."
But Abouacar Diallo, a Guinean journalist, says "it's unfair to blame" the growing cases of prostitution in Guinea "on other people. ... Prostitution and pedophilia existed in Guinea well before the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone," he says.
Guinea was home to about 500,000 refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone by early last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
By Saliou Samb, IPS