Droves of young women in the informal settlement of Donkerhoek in Khorixas are being driven into sex work, as a result of widespread poverty and unemployment.
“Sometimes I do laundry and housekeeping but I have not even landed any odd jobs and my daughter has not eaten for two days now. I will just sell myself for N$50 to feed my child. I cannot let her suffer like this,” says 34-year-old Deoma Tjikuru, as her two-year-old daughter stands besides her.
Tjikuru, a mother of four, uses the money she gets to buy small packets of sugar, maize meal and candles. She says for the past two months, she did not get drought relief that she relies on.
She says she does laundry for others for a mere N$5 or, if that day luck is on her side, she would earn up to N$20 for her troubles.
Tjikuru says many young women, including herself are engaging in sex work to eke out a living. “We know HIV is there but what must we do? I will die rather than see my children suffering while I am alive,” says Tjikuru with teary eyes. Two of Tjikuru children are staying with their relatives, as she cannot afford to look after them. While New Era is interviewing Tjikuru, an elderly women gives Tjikuru’s two-year-old daughter a piece of fat cake.
“That’s the way we are living. That is what she had after two days. At times some mothers give tombo to their children. There is no future here,” says Tjikuru, who dropped out of school in Grade 8 due to a lack of financial support. Tjikuru wishes central government could introduce food-for-work programmes or the local town council could introduce a cleaning scheme were residents could collect rubbish in the town and get paid for the amount of plastic bags that they fill up with garbage.
Elizabeth !Nomxas (40), mother of five, says she makes a living from housekeeping and buys packaged maize meal that costs N$5 after she gets paid N$20, work she has been doing for 20 years.
“Sometimes there is no food for a week. As I am talking with you, my children are at my sister’s house. I did not get any odd job to do and there is not even a grain of maize meal,” !Nomxas says.
Like Tjikuru, !Nomxas has given away three of her children to her relatives and their fathers’ relatives.
One teenage girl, who refuses to identify herself, tells New Era, “I sell myself for Fruitree or even a fat cake so that my children can eat. Khorixas is a living hell, as there are no jobs here and even if there are vacancies open, one has to have sex or give them a cow to get employed. Not all of us have cattle besides it matters if the guy who is supposed to employ you does not like your body,” she says.
The teenage girl further tells New Era that the majority of girls she knows sleep with no condoms, as they have no choice. “Money is high without protection, so what must we do?” she asked.
Christine Tsaes (29), a mother of four, says that she makes a living from selling tombo and also lives off the drought relief food, which she did not get for months now. Tsaes says that she left school after she got a boyfriend while she was in Grade 6. “He (boyfriend) supported me so I left school as I was already struggling back then. Sometimes I would not attend school due to hunger,” Tsaes says.
Tsaes says that most of the girls are struggling and selling themselves to eke out a living due to poverty and unemployment. “I hope this article will bring a change, as some of us can start our fat cake business or even sell sweets if someone helps us. We can also do sewing or housekeeping projects if there is assistance,” says Tsaes, who resides in a backyard shack without electricity in her mother’s yard. Like others, most of Tsaes children are living with relatives.
Mogale Karimbue, Kunene representative for the National Youth Council, urges Donkerhoek youths to organise themselves and hold a meeting with his office, as funds are available to start projects, while Eben Xoagub, acting chief executive officer for Khorixas town council, says, “Town council is not an employment provider. We are just a service provider, who creates a better environment for business to come into the town. Is the town council the only employer, what about Ministry of Poverty Eradication and that of youth?”
Khorixas constituency councillor Elias Xoagub says he does not know what is happening with the drought relief programme, as some staff members are withholding information from him.
“I don’t know what is happening with the drought relief programme,” Xoagub said after he was questioned about some residents who do not get maize meal.
More than 70 percent of youths are unemployed at the north-western town. Khorixas is home to Pep stores and Ok Value supermarket and the majority of residents travel to Otjiwarongo for shopping while youths go to coastal areas and Windhoek for work.
Because of the nature of their work, sex workers are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and HIV than other women. Their risk is higher because sex work means they must have sex with many different men each day. They might want to protect themselves by insisting that their clients use protection such as condoms and other safe-sex practices, but the men who pay them can make this difficult by demanding sex without condoms.