Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Prostitute's Dilemma

You're a prostitute and you're pregnant: what do you do?

That's the dilemma facing 4 dockside sugar girls in Cape Town. For most, it's nothing new—they've all borne children from foreign seamen.Still, it creates pressures, responsibilities, and expectations that most want to avoid.

For most of the women, pregnancy is an occupational hazard. They're fairly resigned about it. Though abortion occurs, many refuse it on moral grounds. Coming from working-class backgrounds, their families can usually absorb new members, despite their constraints.

Each of the four women face unique circumstances in their pregnancies:

The first—7 months pregnant—worked at the clubs up until a month ago when she was banned for stealing a Spanish seaman's jacket and wallet. She fled with the money to go smoke "buttons" (mandrax) with the local Nigerian merchant under a freeway overpass. Most likely, she will return to the clubs after her delivery, make amends with the owners, and continue soliciting like before.

The second—6 months pregnant—seems utterly despondent about her child. She often says she doesn't want it, but won't go for an abortion. Instead, she drinks lot of tequila, smokes ceaselessly, and takes poor care of her health. No pre-natal check-ups. She seems to want a miscarriage. But she also hopes that the Korean father will start sending money. He's coming to Cape Town next month. And what a surprise awaits him: he doesn't know yet he's got a child on the way!

The third—2 months pregnant—shrugs at the pregnancy while trying to raise a smile. The Filipino father died recently, so she can expect no financial support from abroad. Instead, she uses her situation to garner dividends in the present: she shows off her rounding tummy to the Filipino seamen, eliciting "pity money" from them. She tugs at the heart-strings of sailors who understand the "tragic" dimensions of her story, a story they are partially responsible for creating. Most seamen are not immune to the needs of these women.

The fourth—2 months pregnant—sees the baby as the glue that will bind her to her Filipino guy. She plans to marry him in November. She speaks with longing about setting up a home and a family with him, her eyes glistening with hope. Meanwhile, though her would-be husband doesn't like her to still come to the clubs, she continues going so that she can earn "tips": small fees for in-club companionship and conversation.

But I will be surprised if her dreams come to fruition. Though dockside relationships can lead to marriage, more often the practical, financial, and cultural concerns get in the way of a long-term union. The Filipino will probably send maintenance money for a year or two, then slowly let the connection fade, essentially abandoning his own child in the process. This is the typical story.

Dockside pros complain that pregnancy interferes with soliciting (making them feel tired, less attractive, etc.) and their ability to make money. But just as important, they rue that their kids will essentially be fatherless. Indeed, for many of the children, the father is not just absent, but unknown.

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Sugar Girls and Seamen · Suikermeisies en Seamen · Izifebe namaTilosi · 売春婦及び船員 · 매춘부와 선원
妓女和水手 · Làm đĩ và những lính thủy · πόρνες και ναυτικοί · Gamitin sa masama at Mandaragat
Pelacur dan Pelaut · Prostituiertee und Seeleute · Prostituert og Sjømenn · Prostituees en Zeelieden
Prostituées et Marins · Prostitutes e Marinai · Prostitutes y Marineros · проститутки и матросы