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HomeBeautyAttitudes to Sex in Ghana and Vietnam

Attitudes to Sex in Ghana and Vietnam

Ghana and Vietnam are both lower middle-income countries striving to raise their GNI per capita to two thousand dollars. They share many characteristics in common but few similarities are more striking than their attitude to sex. Both countries present a Victorian veneer of respectability in which sex is never mentioned, yet tolerate a thriving sex trade and suffer a growing problem with sexually transmitted diseases.

In both countries prostitution is illegal, yet thousands of women practice this profession with few restraints, although in Vietnam before 2013, prostitutes were periodically arrested and sent to correction centres. Brothels are illegal, but both countries have hotels, bars, karaoke halls and massage parlours that are notorious for the activities they harbour. The women of both countries are renowned for their beauty and their services are exported to surrounding countries and much further afield. In 2014, a case came to light in which six Vietnamese prostitutes were found in Ghana. As they were the victims of traffickers, they were assisted to return to Vietnam.

Neither country has an accurate figure for the number of sex workers but the official estimate in Vietnam is 20-30,000. Estimating is difficult not only because the activity is illegal but also because the definition of a prostitute is unclear. In addition to the full-time professionals, there are various grades of part-time workers. Studies show that poverty is a great driver and many women who are unemployed or in poorly paid jobs feel that involvement in the sex trade is the only way open to them to feed themselves and their family.

In both Ghana and Vietnam, women engaged in the sex trade try to hide their involvement from their family and home community. To this end, they often work as far away from home as possible. It is said that in Hanoi many of the women working in massage parlours come from the Mekong Delta in the far south. They work for a few years then return home with enough money to marry and raise a family. In Ghana, a tribe in the Eastern Region is well known for sending its young women to work in Abidjan in neighbouring Ivory Coast.

Both countries offer a choice of services with charges ranging from 5-10 dollars on the street to 100 dollars in the most sophisticated massage parlours. At the top end of the market, much emphasis is placed on hygiene and the use of condoms, but in the mass market few precautions are taken. Both countries have a problem with sexually transmitted diseases.

In Vietnam the official number of HIV/AIDS sufferers in 2013 was 213,000 or about 0.24 percent of the population. Ghana is worse off, with an estimated 150,000 people affected, about 0.6 percent of its smaller population. It must be hoped that increasing prosperity in both countries will enable more women to avoid the need to augment their incomes by entering the sex trade, and also provide better medical facilities to care for its victims.

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