Prostituting freedom: the untold stories

By Nii Martey M. Botchway 

Accra, April 3, GNA – Is your car parked here? She asked. I responded in the negative. 

“Please take the lead to your car then. I’ll join you in five minutes,” she said. 

“I do not want my madam to see me. She has already taken what I made earlier,” she added. 

True to her word, she joined me later and kept gazing back as she walked to where I had parked. 

It was about 23:00 hours when we got to a safe location not far from where I had picked her up. 

Hundreds of other girls lined the street between the Nunsec, Kantamanto, and Ravico bus stops, covering nearly one kilometre in their skimpy clothes as they flaunted their bodies, while those who lacked the guts to do so hid in the shadows to ply their trade. 

The girls, some as young as 15, engaged in the oldest trade: prostitution.  
Regardless of the danger, these girls risk their lives every time they leave their jurisdiction with a client. 

The irony is that they trade their bodies for freedom rather than money. The ability to make their own money and walk without looking back. Freedom in its fullness. 

Before meeting and picking up Blessing (not her real name), the Ghana News Agency’s (GNA) investigative team found a cartel of pimps recruiting young girls and women from neighbouring countries for supposed businesses in Ghana’s capital, Accra. 

After arriving in Ghana, the recruits learned that the business was prostitution. Their job description was clear. They will prospect for paid sex clients and make daily or weekly sales to their recruiters over a set period. 

Blessing, 18, told the Ghana News Agency that she was brought to Ghana from Nigeria under the guise of working at a restaurant.  
She said that her recruiter, who paid for her trip to Ghana and accommodated her, told her she had six months to pay back the expenses incurred to continue with her life. 

“Six months was just around the corner so I agreed to her terms with the hope that I would be earning my own money soon. She was going to accommodate me,” she said. 

Blessing discovered, rather late, that she would not be working in a restaurant as promised, but would instead trade her body for cash.  
When asked why she didn’t opt out and go home, she explained that she was compelled by oath to serve the six-month time to walk away without repercussions. 

She also said that she and other girls were compelled to take an oath before a deity that if they breached the terms of their engagement before the specified time, they would either go insane, die, or live with an awful body odour for the rest of their lives. 

“This thing wey we don swear to no be joke. I see, wey I don hear of people wey never be de same as them no finish agreement,” she said in Nigerian pidgin. 

Blessing, who had visible wounds on her arms, legs, and face, held a small purse. That purse had three male condoms, lipstick, a small makeup kit, chewing gum, and GHC13. 

The markings, she claimed, were caused by an abusive client who robbed her of her belongings after refusing to pay for the services she gave. That, she explained, was why she didn’t have a phone in her purse, despite seeing her with one when I approached her earlier. 

“We leave our phones with each other if we have to go with a client to his preferred location other than the makeshift hotel rooms we have here,” she noted. 

Blessing, the first of five siblings, expressed regret but said the thought of lifting her family out of poverty keeps her going. 

“I don carry wetin my mouth no fit talk for this business inside. Big, small, large, and even uncircumcised,” she said in pidgin, amidst laughter. 

At the Kiosk Estates, Spintex, things were no different. Angel (not her real name) was aware of the nature of the business for which she was being recruited, “Ashawo,” as it is known locally. 

Like Blessing, she was forced to vow before a deity that she would keep her end of the agreement. 

The 23-year-old who had been in the business for six months, said she still had two months to go because she could not raise the entire GHC30,000 payment she had agreed to with her recruiter for the six-month term. 

She also said that she would have to pay a little more than the agreed-upon amount for defaulting on her payment because she would still be accommodated by her recruiter. 

Over the last six months, she coughed up at least GHC1,250 per week, totalling a staggering GHC5,000 per month.  

Angel, who was paying her recruiter a daily rate of GHC200 from Monday to Saturday, with an additional GHC50 on Sundays, said she chose the weekly payment option because business was slow on certain days. 

“On days that I am not able to make up for the GHC200, I come under a lot of pressure. But with the weekly choice, I make up for the bad days on a good day,” she said. 

“On a good day, I make up to GHC500 or more,” she added. 

Willing to risk anything for the money, she said that her journey to freedom had been long, and that offering her body for money that eventually ended up in the pocket of another was the most demanding thing for her in the last six months. 

Unlike Angel, Blessing has chosen the daily payment choice, paying an average of GHC150 to her recruiter. 

Blessing, who must pay a total of GHC25,000 over six months, claimed that besides bearing all costs for her arrival in Ghana and accommodation, the recruiter also offered some money to her mother as a settlement. 

When the GNA contacted one of the recruiters, who talked anonymously, she said that whatever was going on was strictly business. 

Mama (not her real name) revealed that she was once like the girls before finding her footing as a recruiter and that she now manages about 17 young girls. 

Mama was introduced to the business seven years ago and braced herself because it was too late to turn back, working hard to pay off her debt.  
This, she said, endeared her to her recruiter, who taught her the basics of the business until about two years ago when she became a recruiter. 

She said that the 17 girls, ranging in age from 19 to 26, had two to four months to finish their payments and gain their freedom. 
“Whatever they choose to do with their lives afterwards is none of my business,” she said. 

Mama, who confirmed that the girls were forced to swear before deities, stated that it was the only way to ensure that their investment in the girls did not turn into bad business, 
She disclosed that two of the girls who violated the terms of their engagement during her time faced serious consequences, with one going insane and the other developing a foul odour that would not go away. 

“We do not only facilitate their relocation to this place, but also accommodate them and in some cases feed them while compensating their families back home before bringing them here. Such investments must be backed by something concrete,” she said. 

Mama said that, on average, each girl was to repay double what was spent on her, including money given to their parents at home. 

Responding to the GNA’s findings, Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) Public Relations Officer, Chief Superintendent Michael Amoako Atta, confirmed the existence of such syndicates, saying that their acts constituted human trafficking. 

Citing the ECOWAS treaty and the porous nature of the borders, Chief Supt. Amoako Atta said those syndicates often used unapproved routes to bring their victims into the country to engage in prostitution and other illicit activities. 

The victims, he claimed, were often promised nonexistent jobs with attractive incentives. 

He did, however, reveal that the GIS periodically launches investigations into growing concerns about the nefarious activities of illegal migrants and that it conducts occasional swoops and arrests in collaboration with the Ghana Police Service and other state security agencies, the most recent being in October 2023. 

Chief Supt. Amoako Atta stated that, aside from the ECOWAS treaty, one of the greatest obstacles they had in dealing with such situations was the involvement of some locals who harboured those syndicates. 
He said that Ghanaian citizens who harboured foreign nationals engaged in prostitution and other illegal activities violated Act 29 of the Criminal Code of 1960, Aliens’ Registration Regulation 1974 (L.I. 856), and Section 13 of the Immigration Service Act 2000 (ACT 573), among other relevant laws in the country. 

Chief Supt. Amoako asked the public, particularly landlords, who are required to verify foreign nationals’ travel documents and work permits before renting out their properties, must provide information on suspicious characters. 

He urged migrants to secure valid travel and work permits, stating that the GIS was committed to its mandate and would not hesitate to arrest and deport anyone found engaging in illicit activities in the country.