HIV Presents ‘Danger’ to Child Prostitutes in Morocco
AIDS and STDs are an "ever-present danger" in Morocco, where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line, child prostitution has become a "large and growing problem," and homosexuality is punishable by a three- to six-month prison sentence, the Dec. 9 issue of the Lancet reports. Due to the African nation's "severe economic problems," which place it 55th out of the 78 poorest countries in the world, many children "face a precarious life living alone in the city." They are taken advantage of by foreign tourists who "select children, take them to hotels, clean, feed, and cloth them for the duration of the holiday and then abandon them." Once they begin to earn money from prostitution they are "reluctant to return to their families." As a result, the U.N. estimates that up to 48% of street children have been sexually abused in return for food and shelter. Morocco has 809 reported HIV/AIDS cases, but the Health Ministry estimates that there are 400,000 new STD cases per year. Khadija El-azrak, a community clinic staffer who works for an STD health program, explained that Moroccans "live in such a private society ... AIDS and STDs are very humiliating for people in our culture. Many people used to say 'I have a cold' or 'I am just sick.' If they can't admit to themselves what is happening, how can they admit it to us?" The illegality of homosexuality in Morocco further impedes open discussion about AIDS, and male prostitution "consequently ... tends to be clandestine." The Moroccan AIDS Service Organization (ALCS) launched a study in 1995 to garner information about male prostitution in the attempt to develop preventive strategies. Study results showed that most prostitutes were unaware of AIDS risks and did not know how to negotiate safer sex with clients. The study also showed that many prostitutes had "precarious living situations" as a result of economic dependence, and had many sexual partners. From this study, ALCS developed an AIDS education and prevention program, but the program has been hindered by police who consider the possession of condoms to be proof of prostitution and subsequently discourage many prostitutes from carrying adequate supplies with them. In addition, there still exists "considerable distrust" of all organizations working with the homosexual community, and the ALCS must "tread carefully" in order to be accepted by the public and the police (Kandela, The Lancet, 12/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.