Dear Editor

Solomon Islands is not alone in citing and increase in prostitution and perhaps it is right that the issue should be examined rather than being a subject that many Pacific countries would prefer to discuss privately or not at all.

What concerns me particularly about the reported incidences of prostitution in the Solomons, especially in Honiara , is who are these alleged "prostitutes", women over 18 or children below that age? For women desperate to make ends meet without a regular job, it may provide a source of income, a work "niche" where otherwise they would have nothing at all. If this happens to be the case and, apart from the moral and legal viewpoints, I don't think it could be successfully argued that it was necessarily oppressive or exploitative, and the women's choice or at least consent, to be a prostitute.

It is a sad reflection on society, however, when women are forced into prostitution because of the lack of job opportunities and need money. I would at least hope that the Solomons traditional development partners, especially New Zealand and Australia which have helped considerably in the past, would broaden their existing aid schemes in order to create better work chances and give small business assistance to the urban and rural poor to alleviate their plight.

I remember Sister Lillian, one of the Sisters of the Anglican Church in Honiara , speaking during a workshop in Honiara in January 1999 when she said children as young as eleven were then involved in prostitution in the national capital. She reported that many of the children had been driven onto the streets as a result of problems in their homes and consequently turned to prostitution to survive. I was concerned then and have continued to follow the sustained work of the Family Support Centre, albeit from afar, in trying to address the issues of domestic violence and gender discrimination in the Solomons.

Prostitution by a child is nothing less than child abuse and should be a national concern given urgent attention by the authorities at all levels, including the police Child Protection Unit. Child prostitution is a direct violation of a child's human rights and no efforts should be spared to stop their exploitation, including the pursuit of those procuring children for sex.

Regional countries, including Australia and New Zealand , have decriminalised prostitution but it is highly unlikely that this will occur in the devout church going Solomons with its strong Christian values and principles. Given that legitimising prostitution by adults as an economic activity is unlikely to happen, examining and finding alternative ways of women earning money should be given early priority by the government to be formed after the forthcoming general election.

Until there are better earning opportunities and job prospects for women, it might be true to say, "Prostitution is here to stay," but perhaps it is too simplistic to argue the issue on poverty alone for, as I have touched upon, domestic violence, discrimination and gender abuse all have an influence.

While prostitution might still be in its infancy in the Solomons one should also be aware of the dangers of associated organised crime, including drug dealing, as well as the spread of sexually transmitted infections such as STI's and HIV/Aids, and ancillary crimes such as rape and sexual assault.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short