Sex Workers Face Grim Future

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK WORSENING poverty in Windhoek’s peri-urban settlements has diminished all hopes that many single mothers who sell their bodies in return for money will ever leave the streets. Although many street mothers, as they are called in some circles, frequent the streets because all other alternatives to find money decently have failed, prostitution, they say, is the last thing they want to do. Faced with a situation where most of them are rejected by their families, coupled with a lack of job opportunities and having children to raise and send to school, the harsh and dangerous streets of Windhoek at night have become their source of income. This money though comes hard, as sex workers are shot at, killed, beaten and stabbed. They also endure cruel sex acts such as having bottles inserted in their private parts, being injected with drugs, gang raped and many more sordid acts such as being licked by dogs and snakes. Tough times on the streets have made others decide that they do not want to return to the streets. Christine Visagie, who has worked on the streets for nine years, says she and many young mothers have had it hard but need help to live normal lives again. “Many young ladies that have left the streets and stay at home need help to raise their children,” she said. One of the posters pasted on the walls of Stand Together, a house where the sex workers gather to get help, reads: “Father’s money is just a little bit. Should we work, look for work, there is no work. “Our kids are hungry or must we go to the streets and die. “Where will we get help? We are confused. Help!!!” Visagie and E. Goagus, who spoke to New Era last week, said the group needed projects to earn them an income and get off the streets. Said Goagus: “Problems have pushed us. “It’s not nice to be a sex worker. It’s tough. But our children must eat and you have to do something for your children to have some food otherwise they will go hungry.” According to Father Herman, the mothers are not bad people but the lack of shelter and food, among others, has forced them to take to the streets. “They are normal women looking for love but the streets do not offer that. “They need attention, they need food, clothes and iron sheets to build shelters,” he said, adding that the women can only keep hope alive by getting assistance in the form of employment opportunities. He says they can clean the streets and schools and fill potholes in the roads but efforts to secure projects or get them employed to clean the streets for instance, says Father Herman, have proved futile. Every week, the Roman Catholic priest gives each of the 1 200 street mothers 2.5 kg of maize meal, 1kg of sugar, 2 tins of fish and coffee or tea among others, but these supplies are only enough for one person. Altogether, the women have 3 200 children, who also need to be supported. The majority of the support that Father Herman receives to support the street mothers comes from Germany and as of last year, he spent close to N$300 000 or approximately US$50 000 on them. Some commercial farmers also give assistance now and then. Although he was hoping to get more money at the beginning of this year, the money has not come yet, a thing that has sent fears amongst the mothers who have resolved to get off the streets. “I am afraid that if everything is finished here, we will all go back to the streets and die and our kids will follow in our footsteps,” said Goagus. Even the mothers themselves say they need assistance to be able to help themselves not to relapse. Apart from physical abuse, the street mothers lack the powers to make decisions especially where safe sex is concerned, which has led to the high disease infection rates among the group. And many fear they have contracted the deadly HIV virus. Of the 1 200 street mothers that Farther Herman has for the past 10 years committed himself to helping get off the streets by giving them food supplies, counselling and making sure they have shelter, 75 percent of them are HIV-positive. HIV and AIDS and the killings of some mothers are some of the things that have scared the wits out of the young women to start contemplating getting off the streets. Goagus, for instance, says she does not want to go back to the streets and she even fears she is HIV-positive. “I have gone through many things. “Sometimes I was taken far away and they did not use condoms. “I really do not know, maybe I am positive. “I pray that I am not positive, because I do not want to die.” While these thoughts linger in the minds of Goagus and others, the bottom line is, she says, “Our children must eat and live” and the only place that does not require qualifications and curriculum vitaes and re- ference letters is the streets.