Children Selling Their Bodies

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Prostitution is on a dramatic rise in Namibia, but even more shocking is the number of children joining the ranks of the world’s oldest profession. This alarming data forms part of findings contained in a recently released report. The report with the main heading: “Prostitution in Windhoek, Namibia,” followed by a strap heading: “An Exploration of Poverty,” follows extensive research conducted by acclaimed researcher in the region, Merab Kambamu Kiremire. It reveals child prostitution has become a common feature of local prostitution. Children as young as 11 years are out in shebeens and on streets, particularly the central business district (CBD), the Western bypass, nightclubs, gambling houses and informal settlements for the “sale of the flesh activities”. Despite Namibia being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the sad reality is that 21 percent of those in prostitution are of school-going age – between 15 and 19 years old. “They have invaded our territory. We are angry, they take the bread out of our hands because they are more sophisticated, they change clothes, they patronize the expensive hotels,” confessed a 33-year-old prostitute. The study found that generally 73 percent of people in the industry are children and youths. At least 52 percent are those aged 15 to 30 years. A good 27 percent are adults in the age group 31 to 49 years. The findings further disclose that 89 percent of those in the industry are Namibians and the rest, comprising 19 percent, are foreigners. Violence in this industry has increased drastically with 94 percent of the respondents having fallen victim. “Many battered and mutilated women were found on the streets, both at night and during the day,” says the report. The 33-year-old prostitute openly acknowledged that they chase and beat up young ones who seem to have become the favourites of customers as turf wars increase. Severe financial difficulties emanating from extreme poverty are the common reasons behind engaging in prostitution. The research conducted in three towns, namely Windhoek, Oshakati and Oshikango, found that prostitution in Namibia is rampant, visible, unashamed and unembarrassed. It says 88 percent of those in the industry are female with only 12 percent being male. Some 94 percent of those interviewed worked full-time as prostitutes while five percent operated part-time. Prostitution is highly gendered with a variety of symbiotic partners involved and benefiting. Some prostitutes are encouraged to enter the industry by their boyfriends, pimps, landlords, hoteliers and lodge owners. Prostitutes hand over a considerable portion of their income to their “masters” or pimps. In cases of pimps, they receive the money from a customer on behalf of a prostitute and later decide on how to distribute it. “Customers come from all walks of life, all sectors of society, and are of all age groups, colours and races,” states the damning report. Observation at the Western Bypass pointed specifically to salaried employees in private business and from the public sector freelancing as prostitutes while the number of those entering the trade is on the rise. Prostitution has become highly dangerous and painful, says the report. There is war between prostitutes who want to protect their territories and homeless boys on the streets who beat up and rob prostitutes of their income. Violence is perpetrated using different objects such as knives, guns, stones, dogs, scorpions, snakes, tear gas, rotten eggs, hot water and drugs, among many others. Due to the kind of exploitation and degradation, 93 percent of those in the industry wish to run away from it while 44 percent aspire to receive training in certain skills. Some 18 percent wished to return to school and 14 percent want to start a business. In light of that, the Women’s Action for Development (WAD) together with the Council of Churches in Namibia awarded 24 former prostitutes certificates last Thursday. The 23 females and one male underwent intense training in bag production and needlework, bread and cake making. More courses such as computer literacy, hairdressing, effective project management, home based care, typing, office administration and catering are yet to be offered. Six of the graduates are already in work placements. According to the Executive Director of WAD, Veronica de Klerk, “It is indeed very special because it is living proof of what a powerful tool education and training is in the hands of humankind. It is living proof of how education and training can redirect a person’s life onto a completely new road with new ideals and dreams.” She added, “The women who have previously lived from their earnings on the streets, are now, more than ever before, resolute to change their lifestyle and to henceforth earn a living from socially more acceptable activities.” To the graduates, she urged them to see such efforts as clear testimony of society’s love and care for them. “It is our heart’s desire to see all of you taken up in a position of employment to which you can look forward every day, and not one in which you will be compelled to take drugs and alcohol to enable you to engage in deeds against your will, but for the sake of survival of yourselves and your families,” she said.