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In Lagos, prostitutes and sex workers are everywhere but are their activities illegal?

If you are ever at some places in Lagos at night, you might think a fashion show is happening.

Sex work is common in a commercial city like Lagos [UNAids]

While most shops at Ikeja City Mall are closing by 9 pm, another sect of people is starting a business.

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By the stairs, young ladies in skimpy attires stand pressing their iPhones. You might wonder if they are waiting for someone and will soon leave the stairs, but they might stand there for a while unless a stranger comes and propositions them, and then they’ll walk to his/her car.

These ladies are not always stationary. Just when the clock is about to strike 10 pm, you might also see ladies with amazing bodies strolling up and down as far as the parking lot as if they are looking for something to buy. After seeing them walking up and down empty-handed for a while you might realise that they have nothing to buy.

It should be noted that people are allowed to move in and out of the mall, window shop, sit down and meet with people at the mall despite how seductively they might be dressed. The mall’s management can’t just arrest people based on how they are dressed.

Another interesting hot spot for prostitution in Lagos is Allen Avenue. As early as 5 pm, you can see women getting dressed by the roadside and walking up and down the streets of Allen. Some even reportedly have sex in the nook and cranny of the streets.

The front of the law school campus in Lagos State is another place where you would see sex workers openly catcalling customers.

The backwaters of the Oniru settlement on Victoria Island is another place for fresh-faced ladies of the night.

Even though the Criminal Code doesn’t make prostitution a crime per se. From Section 222 - 223 of the Criminal Code procuring underage girls for prostitution or defiling them is a crime but the act of prostitution isn’t.

Section 250 of the Criminal Code penalises those who control, direct or influence the movements of a prostitute. Also, those wandering any premises or road in such a manner that their presence might be disorderly are guilty of a misdemeanour and can be imprisoned for up to one year.

Section 225 (a) penalises men who live on the earnings of prostitutes, such a weird law because women mostly live on the earnings of prostitutes they 'employed'.

There is a Lagos State Law that prohibits people from vagrancy, Section 168 (a) of the Lagos State Criminal Law, 2011 classifies prostitutes as disorderly persons, “Every prostitute behaving in a disorderly or indecent manner in any public space, loitering and persistently importuning or soliciting for the purpose of prostitution is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable for N15,000."

Many human rights activists have criticised this Lagos state law and the law on prostitution by saying that it’s an unfair law that seeks to punish the poor and that their activities do not hurt anyone. They are trying to earn a living and in some countries, prostitution is not even a crime.

But if you look at it properly, this law in Nigeria is not even enforced. It has been reported that some law enforcement agents have extorted and even raped some of these ladies of the night. On the other hand, their loitering may be corrupting public morals by soliciting to get paid for sex and indecent dressing. There is also the risk of transmitting Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Plus, Nigerians are religious people and adultery and fornication are sins in both major religions. A nation’s law should mirror its shared values, as long as such laws aren’t discriminatory.

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