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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | NAMIBIA: Underage sex-workers have few other options to survive | Children, Economy | Focus
Wednesday 22 February 2006
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NAMIBIA: Underage sex-workers have few other options to survive

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Windhoek - exploited teens among the have-nots in Namibia's skewed growth

WINDHOEK, 24 October (PLUSNEWS) - It's 22:30 on a hot, humid Saturday night in the seedy suburb of Ausspannplatz, south of the central business district of Windhoek, the Namibian capital.

The streets appear deserted, but this changes when a vehicle appears. Boys in their teens and a few scantily dressed girls, some who don't even look 14, emerge from the shadows.

One of the boys approaches the vehicle, bends towards the window and observes the occupants. The smell of cheap wine and cigarettes floats around him.

Hantie says he is 16 years old but has the face of a man in his thirties, hardened by street life.

"Business is not good these days, since the murder of Juanita," he says, referring to a 22-year-old commercial sex worker found beheaded in September. He 'works' the streets from 9 p.m. until the early hours of the morning.

The police have been clamping down on people loitering after 10 p.m. since parliament called for an investigation into the plight of commercial sex workers and street children.

Official statistics on the number of street children in Windhoek are not available, but 'Big Issue Namibia', a magazine for the homeless, put the figure at around 1,000.

Hantie told IRIN he was from Mariental, a town 240 km south of the capital, but made his way to Windhoek seven years ago after his parents died of AIDS-related illnesses. "I ran way because my grandmother was too old to look after me and there was no one else who could care for me," he said.

At first Hantie eked out a living by begging, but he confided that when he turned 12 years his friends told him there was more money to be made from sleeping with tourists and the 'boers' [white people].

"Sometimes they [the clients] come and pick us up in their cars, then we go with them to their places or the bush," he explained.

Hantie says he sometimes only has to masturbate the clients or perform oral sex for 50 Namibian dollars (US $8).

"If you do good work and have sex they pay more, and the tourists give you N $100 (about US $15) or more," he said. "It's painful but the money is good. Sometimes I have four or five men a night, and if I sleep with one the whole night I get paid double."

He uses the money to buy food and clothes, but most of it goes on alcohol and drugs. "You can't do this with a sober mind," he said. "I don't like doing this, but I need the money and it's better than begging."

While Hantie was telling his story other street children and underaged sex workers gathered around the vehicle. Many had run away from broken homes at a very young age, or had lived with grandparents after their parents had died or because they were alcoholics or unemployed, or both.

Most had had minimal education and saw prostitution as their only means of survival.

Three years ago, when he was 10 years old, Wairipi ran away from home in Okakarara, about 200 km north of Windhoek. He is now 13 and sells sex on the streets of the capital, living under bridges with two of his friends. He has never been to school.

"When I first came to Windhoek I just wandered around with my friends begging during the day," he said. "Two years ago we began having sex with men for money - whites, blacks, Portuguese - mostly foreigners. We were scared at first but later we got used to it, because the money was all right and we could survive," he told IRIN.

Wairipi does not regard himself or any of the other boys as homosexuals. "For us it is just about the money - it's a job. We're just doing this to survive," he said.

Martha, 14, looks her age, with a small body and a baby-like face. But the red lipstick, miniskirt and strapless top tell a different story - she has been involved in commercial sex work for two years now and has both men and women as clients.

She is the only one in the group with some education, having gone as far as Grade Six. "I haven't seen her [her grandmother] in two years. I could not burden her anymore, as I wasn't the only child under her care," Martha said.

"Before I get into their cars, we agree on a price. Women pay me N $50 to $70 (about US $11 to $8) an hour, but if I go with them to their places for the night then I get double, as well as something to eat, drink and smoke."

Martha says she sometimes has to take along one of the street children who is big enough to protect her, as she is afraid the client might change his or her mind about paying.

Although she admits her "job" is not safe and she risks contracting HIV, she only uses a condom when a client insists. "But I have an HIV test after every three months to see if I am not sick, and the nurses don't ask me questions although I am only 14."

Namibia is a low middle income country, but has a high income disparity as a consequence of the legacy of apartheid. It is also struggling with an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 22 percent that is beginning to reverse hard-won gains in social development.

Consecutive years of drought in the north of the arid country has further deepened poverty, and increasingly robbed children of opportunities to stay in school and off the streets.

Hilma, 14, escaped from alcoholic parents in the coastal town of Swakopmund when she was 10 years old and came to Windhoek because she heard it was "a nice place". By the time she was 13 she was making "fast money", and at 14 had given birth to a child by a German tourist.

"We were together in his lodge for a week and since the baby we have never seen or heard from him," Hilma says.

Hilma leaves her baby with neighbours when she is working, and "I can't make money any other way, because people tell me I am too young to work. If someone would give me other work I would stop sleeping around immediately, and I would be happy."


Recent NAMIBIA Reports
Inheritance rights still a thorny issue,  14/Feb/06
Poor access to treatment hampers fight against TB,  25/Jan/06
Growing controversy over teen pregnancy,  20/Oct/05
HIV/AIDS takes sustenance as well as lives,  7/Oct/05
Action plan for local authorities ,  4/Oct/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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