Efforts to clamp down on prostitution in Lira have been frustrated by poverty and lack of alternative employment, a report on prostitution in the district says.
The health research project on prostitution was commissioned by Northern Uganda Malaria Aids and Tuberculosis Programme and done by Marie Stopes Uganda, a leading private health provider, with a focus on reproductive health in northern Uganda.
The project was conducted to determine the sero-status of sex workers and to promote safe sex practices among them. Mr Martine Tumusiime, a senior counsellor on the research team, said sex trade is growing at an alarming rate in the district.
“Prostitution is a horrific business and a complex issue in the society. The government and other stakeholders should work out a comprehensive strategy of addressing the problem,” he said. “The girls are easily lured into the practice. Some of them lack formal education or are victims of LRA insurgency.”
According to the report, at least 120 sex workers are operating in Lira. The figure is, however, not exhaustive as it does not include many who engage in the practice from their rented apartments without reaching the streets.
Fixing the root cause
Mr Geoffrey Lapat, the in-charge of Reproductive Health Uganda Lira, acknowledged that prostitution was a growing problem in the district but said it is not yet possible to determine the exact number of girls involved in it. Testimonies from the prostitutes revealed that they are often paid an average of Shs10,000.
Mr Stella Apio, one of the prostitutes, told Sunday Monitor that they have to spend hours in bars and clubs, dress semi-naked and look cheerful to attract potential clients. Her colleague, a Senior Three student in Lira Town, said she lost her parents and joined the trade in order to meet her basic needs at school.
Despite these sentiments, public perception of prostitution is often negative. A police officer at Lira Central Police Station, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said although it was right for the government to punish those who patronise prostitution, it was not sustainable to keep arresting prostitutes without addressing the root cause of the problem.
The report calls on religious and cultural leaders to provide guidance to the young people and asked government to find a lasting solution to the unemployment crisis facing the young people in northern Uganda.