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Taming Mchinji’s young sex workers

Written by  Aaron Banda
MY PARENTS ARE TOO POOR TO PROVIDE FOR ALL MY NEEDS: A young sex worker at a drinking joint - Pic by Aaron Banda MY PARENTS ARE TOO POOR TO PROVIDE FOR ALL MY NEEDS: A young sex worker at a drinking joint - Pic by Aaron Banda

Mchinji, December 10, 2018: Thirteen-year-old Jennet Njoka (not real name) should have been in either Standard Eight or Form One at any school but she is a sex worker in Mchinji District.

Usually clad in miniskirts, she wriggles her behind suggestively as she moves from one drinking joint to another in search for men and uses all tactics to attract their attention.

Jennet says like many other girls in the border district, she is in sex work for money to meet her needs.

“I have parents but they are too poor to provide all my needs. I was admiring other girls who made lots of money within a short period through sex work and enjoy life,” she says.

Jennet adds that since she started the trade last year, she has been making between K5, 000 and K7, 000 per day.

“This is enough money for me to meet the current fashion trends that cannot be met with money from my parents,” she says.

She lives in a small room behind one of the drinking joints.

Despite boasting of being able to make a lot of money in a day, Jennet is aware of the dangers of this purported oldest trade in the world.

Jennet says she is exposed to various forms of exploitation and abuse like non-payment by clients, refusal to use condoms, rape and threats.

“Some clients beat me up, refuse to pay after having sex and threaten to kill me,” she says.

Jennet’s story is not different from Salome Banda’s (not real name).

Salome, 16, is usually found in pubs at Mchinji Boma, drinking and smoking with both young and old men.

Judging from the scars on her face and a questionable haircut, one is tempted to conclude that Salome is a violent girl. She must have survived a number of fights.

Surprisingly, she seemingly enjoys her life style.

However, just like Jennet, Salome laments similar challenges in the trade.

“Life is not simple. I’m in sex work just to help myself meet my daily needs,” Salome says.

Child prostitution in Mchinji is high. The district is bordered with Zambia and mostly taxi and truck drivers plying their trade between the two countries coax the young girls into commercial sex.

Recently, Child Protection Worker in Traditional Authority (TA) Zulu Shaibu Ulanda intercepted two young girls aged 13 and 15 from the area of Senior Chief Mlonyeni.

The girls were found loitering around Kamwendo Trading Centre and claimed they were picked by a taxi driver from the border post.
Apparently, the driver told them that he would give them money and food but later dumped them.

Ulanda says the girls were later referred to a One-Stop Centre facility at Mchinji District Hospital for medical examination and that investigations are underway to arrest the taxi driver.

“Child prostitution in TA Zulu is rampant because the area shares border with Zambia,” he says.

The child sex work is particularly rampant at Kanyama, Masautso, Kamwendo and the Boma.

Ulanda says the reasons that are driving young girls into sex work which is, in most cases, trans-generational are poorly understood with most people attributing it to poverty.

“Parents should not use poverty as an excuse for failing to tame their daughters,” he says.

True to Ulanda’s sentiments, the Malawi Child Care and Protection Act stipulates that parents have a responsibility to protect the child from neglect, discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation, oppression and exposure to physical, mental, social and moral hazards.

But in Salome’s case, she attributes her situation death of her parents. She recalls a time when she used to lead a decent morally upright life.

“My parents were well-to-do and offered me everything. After their death, I started leading a miserable life such that I was forced to go into sex work to make easy money,” she says.

Ironically, Salome says she is scared of being infected with HIV, a virus that causes Aids. She says most of her clients are older men who pay handsomely but demand for sex without protection.

In the wake of the plight of young girls, Youth Net and Counselling Organisation (YONECO) is already in Mchinji to respond to the needs and challenges affecting girls like Jennet and Salome.

YONECO’s project officer for Marriage: No Child’s Play Project, Tionge Banda, says it is sad that some girls find sex work as a solution to their poverty.

“Our organization is training young girls in entrepreneurship especially agribusiness for them to lead productive lives and not engage in immoral practices that can negatively affect their health,” Banda says.

She adds that with funding from SIMAVI in Netherlands, YONECO has managed to train child community protection committees, traditional leaders, youth clubs and girls’ clubs, among others.

“Youth and girls’ clubs have been trained in financial education and youth village savings and loans schemes. Some were given start-up capital in agriculture and small scale businesses,” Banda says.

District Social Welfare Officer Rodwell Chunga challenges religious and traditional leaders to be champions of child protection if Malawi is to make strides in ending child prostitution.

“Traditional and religious leaders play a big role in shaping societal attitudes towards culture, therefore, they should take a leading role to curb child prostitution in their areas,” he says.

He adds that the Department of Social Welfare in the district recently established and trained five child protection committees around the Boma to be monitoring the behaviour of young girls.

“We have also sensitised Kabaza [bicycle taxi] operators because they are the ones that pick the young girls to various places for sex,” he says.

Chunga laments that though his office, together with other stakeholders like the police, has been conducting sweeping exercises in places where young sex workers are found, most of them return later.

“However, we will continue with our routine inspection and sweeping exercises because if left unchecked many young girls risk contracting HIV,” Chunga says.