‘Voiceless Victims’: Children Living in the Red-Light Areas of Ibadan, Nigeria

Publication Date01 Oct 2020
AuthorTemitope A. Oshileye,Richard A. Aborisade
‘Voiceless Victims’:
Children Living in the
Red-Light Areas of
Ibadan, Nigeria
Richard A. Aborisade1 and
Temitope A. Oshileye2
Much research work on victims of sex work, including studies employing feminist
perspectives, focuses on sex work as either being a ‘victimless crime’, or women
as victims, leaving the victimization of children as direct and proximate victims
relatively unexplored. The practice of commercial sex work in Nigeria is illegal;
however, sex business thrives in most urban centres with considerable preva-
lence of red-light districts. Brothels, strip clubs and other sex-oriented businesses
that constitute red-light districts are usually located in neighbourhoods where
people that have no business with sex work live with their families. This present
study, therefore, moves to expose the risks and vulnerabilities of children living in
red-light areas. Drawing on social disorganization and learning theories, an ana-
lytical cross-sectional survey of residents of neighbourhoods where commercial
sex work thrives within the city of Ibadan was conducted. Fifty-seven family men
and women living in red-light areas with their children were purposively selected
to provide data for the qualitative study. The rate of children’s engagement in pre-
marital sex, consumption of illicit drugs, alcoholic intake, stealing, street fighting,
and school dropout was found to be a factor of their intimacy with sex work and
workers in red-light areas. The study concludes that children who grow up in red-
light areas are more vulnerable to being physically, emotionally, sexually abused
and exploited than children who do not live in such areas. Regulation of sex work
activities and prioritizing of child protection issues were suggested.
Children, commercial sex work, Ibadan, red-light areas, victims
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
3(2) 164–182, 2020
2020 National Law
Universit y Delhi
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2516606920950564
1 Department of Sociology, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria.
2 Department of Sociological Studies, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu Ode, Ogun State,
Corresponding author:
Richard A. Aborisade, Department of Sociology, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State,
E-mails: ra.aborisade@gmail.com; aborisade.richard@oouagoiwoye.edu.ng
Aborisade and Oshileye 165
Criminologists have shown significant interest in discovering and understanding
the factors associated with sex work. Despite this interest, previous research have
been limited on the direct and proximate victims of the activities of the sex
workers especially in developing countries where sex trades are largely illegal,
resulting to being practiced clandestinely. In the few research interest in this area,
conflicting findings have been reported as to those who constitute the direct and
proximate victims of commercial sex work.3 While some criminologists consider
sex work as ‘victimless’,4 many anti-prostitution feminists argue that all prostitu-
tion causes harm to women.5 However, prominent among victims who have been
largely overlooked in research are children who are born and had to grow up
within red-light areas—parts of urban areas with high concentration of prostitu-
tion and sex-oriented businesses.6
The practice of sex work in Nigeria is prohibited even though it is highly
tolerated, especially in the southern parts of the country. Specifically, the law
prohibiting sex work or prostitution in all Northern states is as contained in the
Islamic Penal Code. In the Southern states, provisions of the Nigerian Criminal
Code under Sections 223, 224 and 225 prohibit the activities of pimps or madams
(sex barons), ownership or operations of brothels and underage prostitution.
However, unlike the Islamic Penal Code, that clearly bans prostitution, the
Nigerian Criminal Code only forbids individuals from trading in prostitution
through the ownership of brothels and involving the underage in sex business. As
pointed out in the Code, an act that seeks to seduce children into prostitution is
perceived as offence against morality, and, if found guilty, perpetrator is liable to
two years imprisonment. However, in spite of the illegality of owning and
operating brothels in the country, there are many of them across the country
mostly operating under the guise of ‘hotel’.7 Meanwhile, the controversies that
have continued to trail the legal status of sex work in southern Nigeria has been
3 B. Hughes, Strictly Taboo: Cultural Anthropology’s Insights into Mass Incarceration and Victimless
Crime, 41(1) New eNg. J. Crim. Civ. CoNfiNemeNt 49–84 (2015); C. Hounmenou, Exploring Child
Prostitution in a Major City in the West Africa Region, 59 Child Abuse NegleCt 26–35 (2016).
N. Mcginty et al., Public Perceptions of Arguments Supporting and Opposing Recreational Marijuana
Legalisation, 99 PreveNt. med. 80–86 (2017).
4 N. Reiter, Dollars for Victims of a ‘Victimless’ Crime: A Defense of Drug Dealer Liability Acts, 15(3)
J.l. PoliCy 1329–1374 (2007); J. Outshoom, Policy Change in Prostitution in the Netherlands: From
Legalisation to Strict Control, 9(3) sexuAl. res. soC. Poly 233–243 (2012).
5 G. Abel & L. Fitzgerald, ‘The Street’s Got Its Advantages’: Movement Between Sectors of the
Sex Industry in a Decriminalised Environment, 14 heAlth risk soCy 7–23 (2012); A. dworkiN,
Prostitution and Male suPreMacy, life and death (1997); M. Farley, Prostitution and the Invisibility
of Harm, 26(3/4) womeN therAPy 247–280 (2003); C. MacKinnon, Trafficking, Prostitution, and
Inequality, hArv. Civ. rts.-Civ. liberties l. (2011), at http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/pdfs/
6 R. Weitzer & D. Boels, Ghent’s Red-Light District in Comparative Perspective, 12(3) sexuAl. res.
soC. Poly 248–260 (2015).
7 A. Olalere, Prostitution and Its Legality, NewswAtCh times, Oct 2013, available at http://www.

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