As South Africa celebrates Women’s Month a group of underage female sex workers in Hazyview told Newshorn that there was nothing to celebrate.
Child prostitution has markedly risen since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the assistance of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), these girls, between the ages of 14 and 17 years of age, agreed to speak to NewsHorn.
A 16-year old girl said she joined the business after her mother lost her job on one of the farms in the area and there was no food at home. She explains that they also did not want to keep asking neighbours and family relatives for hand-outs. “One of my friends told me how she was making money in our town, so one day I decided to join her. Because of my young age most men prefer me and on that first night I went home with R1300. I had no choice; I had to join the business to survive.”
According to her, police brutality is a major challenge for them. Since prostitutions is illegal in South Africa, police often harassed them demanding bribes to keep the sex workers out of jail.
“Others, especially older ones (police officers), forced themselves on me without paying,” she said, admitting that it was difficult to report them at the police station as she was aware that it was illegal to sell her body on the street.
“Not only have my rights as a child been violated, but also my right to protection, has been taken away as a result of the pandemic. Life was better before COVID-19 and the worst is that I do not qualify for a social relief grant.”
Meanwhile, another 17 year-old girl said they depended on their mother for protection while working. She explains that her mother is also sex worker, she says s and her mother told her it was the only way to survive.
“She did not force me but I decided to join the business because her boyfriend used to give her money after sleeping with me. I will sometimes go clubbing and go with a guy who will pay me after spending a night with him. So it was easy for me to join even though I know it’s wrong but I manage to help my mother to finish building the house,” she told journalists.
She added that she tried to protecting herself from men forcing themselves on her, but some of the men were stronger than her.
Also, she could not ask the police for help. “If my mother can get a better job to support me and my siblings, I will quit. Now I have to go to school during the day and also work at night”
Her mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she lost her job at a private company at the beginning of the pandemic and with that lost all sources of support. Because of that she says, she had no other option but to become sex worker business.
It pains to see my daughter sleeping with these men in front me because I have to be there to make sure that she is safe, but I am not enjoying all of this. I have tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted and told me that she had been doing this indirectly anyway so why not do it officially since most men preferred young girls and were prepared to pay any amount to have sex with them,” according to her.
Another group of girls between 15 and 17-years of age said the police offered protection for sex.
“We are forced by poverty at our homes, the fact that we have to ask for basics every day pushed us and the fact that our parents are not working, we had to depend on a social grant. The worst part of it is that even the men we date want sex before giving us money. So we had came to the conclusion that we should rather sell our bodies in public as there is better money and while we are still young, we have hope that things will change,” they said.
The young women says they see no reason to celebrate Women’s Day ,while they were still living in poverty with limited opportunities and human rights which are only guaranteed on paper, not in real life.
Women’s Day (09 August) commemorates the 1956 March of approximately 20,000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the pass laws that required black South Africans to carry an internal passport.
Mpumalanga’s acting police spokesperson; Colonel Donald Mdhluli said all citizens according to the Constitution of South Africa, should be protected by the SAPS members. Police are duty bound to protect all groups, including sex workers.
“No one has to pay bribe to police No one has to pay bribe to police. If that happens then it amount to a criminal offence which must be reported. The complainants can report the matter to the Station Commander as the official in charge of the station. If a complainant is not satisfied with how the matter was handled, then there is a District Commander, in this case Ehlanzeni District Commander” explain Mdluli.
When a complainant does not get joy on how the District handled the matter then they can report this to the Provincial Commander. “There is no one who is above the law. We also have Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and we encourage members of the community to make use if these structures as they have been established to assist them whenever there is a need to do so” he said.
Sex work is criminalised in the SA Criminal Code and municipal by-laws also contain provisions prohibiting sex work such as “importuning any person for the purpose of prostitution” or “soliciting”.
Section 28 of the Bill of Rights in the SA Constitution provides for the protection of children under the age of 18. It also directs the government to provide, basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care and social services including, protection from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.
Other issues were concerned with protection from exploitative labour practices, inappropriate for a person of a child’s age or placing at risk the child’s well-being, education and physical or mental health.
Human Rights Watch states that the criminalisation of sex workers in South Africa had not deterred people from selling sex to make a living.
Criminalisation had however, made sex work less safe. It undermined sex workers’ access to justice for crimes committed against them and exposed them to unchecked abuse and exploitation by law enforcement officials, including police officers.
Megan Lessing from the Sex Workers Education Advocacy Task force, SWEAT, says over the past two decades the organisation had been organising sex workers, advocating for and delivering services to them. “We will keep in touch with them to find out how we can assist them. They can also log onto our website to get our contact numbers as they also have rights which need to be protected.” She said
She further said they will try their best to take out those kids off the street and those men who are sleeping miners must be charged prosecuted for statutory rape.