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In Burkina Faso, One Hotel's Fight Against Sex Tourism

One consequence of rising costs in Burkina Faso, where sex tourism is a thriving industry, seems to be more women turning to prostitution as a means of income. In the capital, Ouagadougou, one hotel is committed to battling prostitution within its own walls. Uma Ramiah has more from Ouagadougou.

At the Hotel Mercure Silmande in Ouagadougou, glass-encased signs posted between elevators read, "Together, Fighting Against Sex Tourism."

Manager Franck Girodolle tells VOA that although prostitution is a way of life in Burkina Faso, he and his staff do everything they can to prevent it from happening in the hotel.

Girodolle says prostitution is clearly visible on the streets in the center of the capital, where women working in restaurants, bars and hotels often turn to prostitution after sunset. But the Mercure Silmande is on the outskirts of town, far from what Burkinabe call the night-trade hub. The hotel sees less prostitution than many establishments downtown, says Girodolle. The prostitutes he sees are often brought from town by hotel guests.

Girodolle says he thinks the rising cost of living is pushing more women into the trade. He has seen more, and different, women working as prostitutes at the hotel as the costs of basic food staples in West Africa have skyrocketed since the beginning of the year.

Girodolle holds regular meetings with his employees to make them aware of the hotel's policies, showing videos produced by the parent company in France. Preventing the trade is a tricky business, says Girodolle. A woman drinking at the hotel bar alone is doing nothing illegal, he says. But she may be looking for a client. Girodolle and his staff must be sure before they report an incident to police.

The Mercure Silmande has two policemen working undercover to watch for prostitution, he says. They work as waiters or barmen and are trained to look out especially for child prostitution, though he has not seen any cases during his two years at the hotel.

On each floor, elevators are surveyed by security personnel. Visitors are required to leave an identification card at the front desk before stepping foot in an elevator, he says. This often causes problems with guests who feel their privacy is under attack, but the policy remains. If something is afoot, he says, the hotel is aware.

In March, the mayor of Ouagadougou tried to close a series of small hotels in town, known for promoting the sex trade, says Girodolle. What followed was a large demonstration led by the hotel owners and workers.

The hotels, which Girodelle say provide income for hundreds of people, remained open. Prostitution is legal in Burkina Faso, but soliciting and enabling prostitution are prohibited.

Burkina Faso is ranked next to the bottom in a U.N. index measuring poverty.

Girodolle says it is a shame that women have to resort to selling their bodies. Though he says it is difficult to fight prostitution when many people rely on the trade for survival, he does not think hotels like the one he runs should condone the practice.