Prostitution in Ivory Coast

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Prostitution in Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) is legal, but associated activities, such as soliciting, pandering or running brothels, are illegal.[1][2] Sex workers report law enforcement is sparse and corrupt. Police sometimes harass sex workers and demand bribes or sexual favours.[1][2] Transgender prostitutes are often targeted by police and soldiers and subjected to violence.[3] It was estimated in 2014 that there were 9,211 prostitutes in the country.[4]

The civil war has left many women in need for wages, so some have resorted to prostitution, as there is high unemployment.[5][6]

In the capital, Abidjan, most of the prostitutes come from Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Mali, Senegal and other West African states,[7] the largest group being from Ghana.[8] Ivorian soldiers and UN Peacekeeping personnel are amongst the clients.[6]

In the cities, sex workers have started organisations to protect their interests. Often they cater for a particular ethnic group. Each organisation has a president and other officers, these are normally older prostitutes who are regarded as "wiser".[7]

Sex Tourism is also a problem in the Ivory Coast.[9][10]

Local nomenclature[edit]

  • "Serpents" - In Abidjan, street walkers are known as "serpents" because of the hissing sounds they make to attract clients.[6] Rue Pierre et Marie Curie in the city's red-light district of Marcory Zone 4 is known locally as "Serpent Street".[11]
  • "Dioula women" - Younger prostitutes originating from Mali. After a short stint working as prostitutes they usually become traders in local markets.[7]
  • "Karoua women" - Older Zarma or Hausa women, usually divorced, from Ghana.[7]
  • "Evolue" - These women, from various countries in French West Africa, seek clients in bars and nightclubs.[7]
  • "TouTou" - Coming from the British West African states, these women are mainly street prostitutes. The name is derived from 'two shillings, two pence'; a prostitute who doesn't charge much.[7]


Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, a form of institutional prostitution took place in the country. The political elite acquired women, usually slaves, to service the sexual needs of the unmarried males. They were initiated by religious rites and their earnings were controlled by the state. To distinguish them, they wore a cloth of white linen around their head. Married men were forbidden to use their services, and punishment was severe.[12]

In the 1960s, many French prostitutes came to the country, mainly from Paris and Marseilles. They worked as barmaids at bars and nightclubs, predominately in Abidjan. They charged high fees, but the bar owner took a per-client "air conditioning" commission. Because of the high fees, clients were Europeans or elite Africans.[7]

Ghanaian woman started to migrate to the Ivory Coast to work as prostitutes in the 1970s due to a downturn in the Ghanaian economy.[13] This migration continued, and in the 1990s over half of the prostitutes in Abidjan were from Ghana.[8]


As with other countries in West Africa, Ivory Coast has an HIV epidemic.[14] Sex workers are a high risk group, and condom use was previously not common,[15] leading to 70% of sex workers in Abidjan being HIV positive in 1995.[16] Aggressive public outreach campaigns and education interventions targeted key high-risk populations, such as sex workers, which brought the infection rate down to 40% in 1998.[16]

Continued campaigns, education, condom distribution and access to better health care brought the HIV prevalence amongst sex workers down to 26.6% in 2011,[17] and 11% in 2016.[18]

Sex trafficking[edit]

Ivory Coast is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Trafficking within the country is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of identified victims are children. Due to a stronger emphasis on monitoring and combating child trafficking within the country, the prevalence of adult trafficking may be under reported. Ivorian women and girls are primarily subjected to forced labor in domestic service and restaurants in Côte d'Ivoire but are also exploited in sex trafficking.[19] Some women and girls recruited from Ghana and Nigeria[20] as waitresses are subjected to sex trafficking.[19] Officials note illegal Ivorian migrants in Algeria are vulnerable to trafficking due to their irregular and illegal status. A lack of comprehensive data on trafficking in Côte d'Ivoire renders the full scope of the problem unknown.[19]

The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ranks Ivory Coast as a Tier 2 country.[21]


  1. ^ a b "Sex Work Law - Countries". Sexuality, Poverty and Law. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b "2008 Human Rights Report: Cote d'Ivoire". United States Department of State. 25 February 2009. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  3. ^ Corey-Boulet, Robbie (12 October 2012). "Transgender prostitutes face abuse in Ivory Coast". Taiwan News. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  4. ^ "Sex workers: Population size estimate - Number, 2016". UNAIDS. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  5. ^ "2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices " Africa " Cote d'Ivoire". United States Department of State. 6 March 2007. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  6. ^ a b c "Young West African Girls Face Perils of Prostitution, Trafficking". VOA. 27 October 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Ditmore, Melissa Hope (1 January 2006). Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313329708. Retrieved 8 January 2018 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ a b Kouame, K (1994). "[Migration and prostitution in the Abidjan region]". Laval University. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Massaging the truth: Sexual tourism in Ivory Coast". Radio Netherlands. Archived from the original on 20 December 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  10. ^ "Earning a Living... - Blog from Mandanou, Cote D'Ivoire". Off Exploring. 4 February 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  11. ^ Duhem, Vincent (20 July 2015). "Avis aux noctambules abidjanais : la Zone 4 est désormais à deux pas… de danse –". Jeune Afrique (in French). Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  12. ^ Harley, Sharon (2007). Women's labor in the global economy : speaking in multiple voices ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). New Brunswick, NJ [u.a.]: Rutgers Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0813540443.
  13. ^ Kessler, Justine L. (28 April 2005). "The Voices of Sex Workers (prostitutes?) and the Dilemma of Feminist Discourse". University of South Florida. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  14. ^ "2008 Country Profile: Cote d'Ivoire". U.S. Department of State (2008).
  15. ^ Huband, Mark (19 July 1991). "Ivory Coast prostitutes at centre of Aids web - Mark Huband". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Côte d'Ivoire and HIV/AIDS" (PDF). USAID. June 1999. Retrieved 9 January 2018.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ Vuylsteke, Bea; Semdé, Gisèle; Sika, Lazare; Crucitti, Tania; Traoré, Virginie Ettiègne; Buvé, Anne; Laga, Marie (5 March 2012). "HIV and STI Prevalence among Female Sex Workers in Côte d'Ivoire: Why Targeted Prevention Programs Should Be Continued and Strengthened". PLOS ONE. 7 (3): e32627. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...732627V. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032627. PMC 3293836. PMID 22403685.
  18. ^ "HIV prevalence amongst sex workers". UNAIDS. 2016. Archived from the original on 22 July 2018. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  19. ^ a b c "Cote d'Ivoire 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 8 January 2018.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  20. ^ Motshegwa, Lesego (28 August 2010). "Nigeria teens sold for prostitution in Ivory Coast". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  21. ^ "Cote d'Ivoire 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 29 July 2018.

Further reading[edit]