By day, Santa Maria on tge island of Sal is a very different place. Families on package holidays enjoying the sun and long, white sandy beaches. As another charter plane lands at Sal’s Amílcar Cabral International Airport and the tourists queue up at immigration, worries about the potentially negative impact of the tourism industry are the last thing on the minds of holidaymakers.
It’s around midnight. The main tourist area of Santa Maria, Sal is filling up for a long night of partying. In one of the bars that line the streets, a young woman in a miniskirt dances alone to blaring music while men watch her from their barstools. Out on the terrace, a group of Italian men drink and chat with local women.
Santa Maria is now at the heart of a tourism boom, fuelling the economies the Cape Verde archipelago, with tourist numbers continuung to boom, it has brought concerns that Cape Verde is also becoming a destination for sex tourists.
Tourist Arrivals in Cape Verde increased to 163,599 in the third quarter of 2017 from 153,535 in the second quarter of 2017. Tourist Arrivals in Cape Verde averaged 138,789 from 2000 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 312,880 in the fourth quarter of 2017 and a record low of 71,246 in the second quarter of 2008.
While there is no official data on sex tourism, there is also no shortage of evidence that it is happening and officials and residents agree it could grow if left unchecked.
Artur Correia, executive secretary of the CCS in Praia comments:
“Tourism is growing very quickly and we need to be prepared so we can prevent an increase in HIV/AIDS.”
Cape Verde legislation does not penalise prostitution and the numbers of sex workers operating covertly and overtly in Sal indicates there is a demand for their services.
The number of male and female sex tourists in Cape Verde has increased with beach tourism. Prevalence of all kind of sexually transmitted infections among prostitutes of both sexes is growing. It is higher among the promiscuous boys and girls at the beach, bars, discos and everywhere where tourists congrogate. Sexual interaction between tourists are also quite risky.
Attracted by the tourism and construction boom around Santa Maria, many of Sals 17,000 inhabitants have migrated from other islands and mainland Africa. Making a living is often harder than they expected and some turn to prostitution to make ends meet. Cape Verdians involved in the sex trade tend to be more discreet about their line of work than foreigners.
Jorge Figuereido, president of Sal’s local government administration comments:
“We see women from the African coast going onto the streets, working as prostitutes. Cape Verdians go to discos, restaurants and live with foreigners. It’s hard to tell if a relationship is one of prostitution or not.”
Sergio Rodrigues, secretary of the Municipal Committee for the Fight against AIDS in Sal, agrees:
“You find both Cape Verdian and foreign prostitutes here, mainly in Santa Maria. But, as people from here all know each other, Cape Verdian prostitutes are usually much more hidden about what they do.”
Finally, there is a risk everywhere and the hope for a lower risk is the use condoms and avoid practices with direct mucus contact. Condoms (Crioulo: camisinha) you find in Pharmacies (Farmácia) and in Reproductive Health Centres, called PMI.