When Husbands Become Pimps
YAOUNDE, Jul 20 (IPS) - Business at the numerous money
transfer agencies in Cameroon's capital, Yaoundé, is
typically a brisk affair. Of the many people who
frequent the agencies, one group is of particular
interest, however: the husbands of women who have gone
abroad to earn money from prostitution.
Eavesdrop as the men receive calls from their wives on
mobile phones, and you will hear them sound exultant
as they get news of how much to expect.
Such scenes become ever-more frequent from June: the
start of summer in Europe, where Cameroonian women
find work as prostitutes (the most sought-after
destinations are apparently Switzerland, France,
Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Spain).
Departure halls of airports in Yaoundé and the
commercial centre of Douala throng with spouses
bidding their farewells.
"I can't tell you what I'm going to do in France. My
husband tells me I have a fantastic figure, and that I
need take advantage of it for the good of my family,"
a 39-year-old government contract worker told IPS with
some embarrassment at the airport in Yaoundé. "When my
husband compared our sad situation to that of a family
friend who has two cars and a villa, he suggested I go
and 'work hard' over there."
"My colleague, who's a regular, left three weeks ago
and she's supposed to show me the ropes. She really
encouraged me to do everything in my power to travel
and make a go of it there," the woman added.
According to information gathered by IPS, women can
make up to 20,000 dollars during their stay in Europe.
The monthly salary of a mid-level civil servant in
Cameroon is just under 200 dollars.
"This is the second time I'm sending my wife to make
her way there. I have a friend who lives in high
style, and he suggested we get involved in this
'business'," said a second-hand goods dealer.
"He convinced me (my wife's) curves would really knock
out the whites, who are attracted to her type," the
man added. "I didn't know how to suggest it to my
wife, but given our increasing problems I laid it out
to her -- and she agreed."
The practice of prostituting wives gained popularity
after a collapse in commodity prices helped bring
about economic decline in Cameroon, from 1986 onwards.
"Because of this crisis, which has caused moral
bankruptcy and a lack of scruples among certain
husbands, some men acting as their wives' pimps think
that sending them away to be prostitutes in far-off
places will earn them lots of cash," Colette Djuidjeu,
a sociologist who teaches at the University of Yaounde
II, explained to IPS.
Under Cameroonian law, any person found guilty of
pimping is subject to a prison term ranging from six
months to five years, and a fine of up to about 190
To date, however, charges have never been filed
against a husband who encourages his wife to engage in
"We have sent a letter to the Ministry for the
Advancement of Women and the Family about this
problem, especially since women have come back with
HIV/AIDS," says Samirat Ntiaze, president of the
Training and Supervision Circle for Women and Youth: a
Yaounde-based non-governmental organisation.
"Our group wants to do something, but the problem
always comes down to wives' refusal to turn in their
husbands for these barbaric acts, even though it is
they who shoulder the burden of their husbands' money
grubbing," Ntiaze added.
Similar statements are heard from government.
"We make women aware of the risks they run. But mostly
the practice is consensual, and some women don't want
to cooperate in dismantling these networks of pimping
husbands," said Clotaire Mbembe, a social worker at
the ministry for women and families. She was unable to
tell IPS how many women are thought to be involved in
this form of prostitution.
Officials say that most of the wives who apply for
passports claim they are going to Europe to visit a
sick family member or for medical treatment.
The Swiss and German consulates, contacted by IPS,
said it was known that many women who applied for
visas would work as prostitutes once in Europe. But,
consular officials added that they had no way of
identifying potential prostitutes, as their visa
applications generally met immigration requirements.
Rumours also abound of civil servants and policemen
sending their wives to have sex with their superiors,
so that the men can receive a promotion -- or get into
the good graces of their managers.
Still, certain women succeed in turning the tables on
"It seems to me that the wives do get something out of
it sometimes," says Ntiaze, "since some of them leave
and never come back." (END/2005)