Adrian Frater, News Editor
While Government continues to reject calls - including those from noted health professionals - to decriminalise prostitution, it would appear that more young women in western Jamaica, especially in the resort towns, are entering the profession in a bid to compensate for their inability to secure legitimate sources of employment.
"As a child growing up, prostitution was the farthest thing from my mind," said Aldith, a high-school dropout from Montego Bay.
"I got pregnant at age 14, and both my parents and my babyfather turned their backs on me. On the advice of friends, I decided to try hustling the streets (prostitution), and this is how I have been making a living for the past five years."
Cruise passengers targeted
Aldith is just one of an ever-growing number of young women who can be found on the Hip Strip and Coral Wall in Montego Bay at nights; the nightclub circuit in Negril; and on the days cruise ships come to Falmouth - Jamaica's new cruise-shipping hub.
Cognizant of the fact that Falmouth and the 6,000 to 10,000 cruise-ship passengers weekly are now firmly in the cross hairs of migrating prostitutes, Member of Parliament for North Trelawny Dr Patrick Harris does not want to see solicitation taking place on the streets of the town.
"I believe there should be specially designated areas, where visitors requiring that type of service could go," said Harris. "That is definitely something that should not be allowed to thrive out in the open."
With the prostitutes, who have been labelled as commercial sex workers (CSW) by the local health authorities, reportedly raking in as much as $40,000 daily, Aldith said it is a source of motivation for many young women unable to secure jobs in the formal sector.
"First time, only a girl who didn't care what people think about them would come out and do the 'hustle'," she explained. "Nowadays, even girls who are still in school, under the care of their parents, are coming on the street ... . Right now, it is a big rat race."
It would appear that prostitution is evolving into a profession with more than one face, according to Dawnette, a seasoned Hanover-based prostitute.
"I have my special people who I deal with," said Dawnette, whose clientele is made up primarily of American tourists and local businessmen, who regularly travel to western Jamaica. "When my people (clients) are coming, they usually inform me ahead of time and make arrangements for me to stay with them in their hotel, guest houses or villas."
While there seems to be a level of tolerance towards prostitution in western Jamaica, especially against the background that practitioners are seemingly able to operate with impunity in towns like Negril and Montego Bay, the police are not turning a blind eye to the practice.
"In addition to the responsibility that all police personnel have, our street crime unit has been specially mandated to arrest and charge persons caught soliciting sex," said Assistant Commissioner of Police Denver Frater, commanding officer for Area One, which includes Negril and Montego Bay.
"While I don't have the figures at my fingertip to say how many persons have been arrested, I know for a fact that several persons have been arrested, charged and placed before the courts."
While ACP Frater and the Church remain wary of the practice of prostitution on legal, ethical and moral grounds, there is also a view that the practice should be decriminalised and regulated because of its capacity to generate billions of dollars for the nation's coffers.
Could rake in $5B annually
In 2008, Dr Kevin Harvey, a senior medical officer in charge of the health ministry's National HIV/STI Programme, caused eyebrows to be raised when he recommended that, if 'decrimi-nalised and regulated', prostitution could rake in $5 billion in taxes.
"Let's say we estimate that we have about 10,000 CSWs in Jamaica, and let's say they have two episodes of commercial sex per week, and let's say each episode costs about $5,000, they would be earning $10,000 a week." argued Dr Harvey. "The average earning per CSW would be about $520,000 per year ... . The total annual earnings for the population would be $5 billion."
However, for someone like Aldith, the national coffers, statistics, ethics and morality are the farthest thing from her mind. For her, confronting the street each night is all about trying to make two ends meet in the hope of being able to put food on the table.
Names changed to protect identity.
Levi Gayle, retiree
They shouldn't recognise it. Prostitution is against the will of God.
Elaine McKenzie, teacher
These kinds of things should not be legalised. What kind of message are you sending to children in society? You're telling them that prostitution is OK for them to go into.
Latoya Lawrence, sales representative
I don't think they should, because selling our bodies is not right. I look at it as a disgrace to females. I think they should provide different opportunities for people.
Roy Clarke, guidance counsellor
I'm a man of the Church, so I don't believe in it. The Government needs to find jobs for the people so they don't have to go into that.