by Mbũrũ Kamau
Published on: Feb 8, 2008
Type: Opinions

Anastaciah (not her real name) is sixteen, but she knows much more than some people older than her. At her age, she should be in high school like her age-mates. Instead, she spends most of her day sleeping, only to wake up later in the evening for the ‘call of mastering the art of survival.’ In other words, she is a commercial sex worker. Her story reads like a tale ‘ parents were poor and could not afford to take me to school. I landed in this job because life was becoming unbearable for me.’ She says this with a beaming face whose innocence has withered away.

Although an illegal trade in most of Africa, prostitution has found itself uncontrollable owing to the fact that society either ignores it or hopes one day it will automatically disappear from the face of the earth. Unfortunately the trade in human flesh has been elusive, earning itself the mark ‘the world’s oldest profession.’

It is pathetic that children are in the sex business. Teenagers, some barely out of childhood, are lured into prostitution every day with the hope for a better future. The sex business in Africa is attended by a great tirade of pitiful pretence that the society can afford to turn a blind eye to the one trade that poses the greatest dangers to its future.

Sadly, and unremarked by most, the fight against prostitution focuses on the supply side while the demand side is left to go scot-free. This makes prostitution one of the most lucrative businesses in the modern world. This complacency probably explains why no one is quite able to clear this mess, once and for all, and yet it is a problem right in front of our noses. There is a lot of hue and cue on who exactly is a prostitute: is it the males who patronise red light districts or the females who eke a living out of the flesh trade?

Absolute poverty, like Anastaciah’s, has played a significant role in pushing more school-going girls out into the streets. This increases the number of illiterate adults and young mothers at an alarming rate. The girls in this business are taken advantage of by adults who make a beeline to the rural areas to pick them up and lure them into major cities with promises of a good life.

Another factor is that the lack of proper information on their rights contributes to the high incidences of prostitution. Many a girl does not understand that they have the right to say “NO” without feeling regret, and can thus earn respect. Quite a number believe that a “NO” is a selfish act and not a right! Our societies have taught girls to associate “YES” with acceptance and survival, and “NO” with rudeness and arrogance.

The work of sensitising the larger society to reclaim the lives of these unfortunate girls has adopted the “I don’t care about your problems after all” attitude. This only demoralises those girls who would like to recoup for their the lost childhoods. There are many individuals and organisations who have appointed themselves Moral Watchdogs but the flesh trade in children is blowing out of proportion. One cannot clap with one hand, so goes the mantra. So in order to eliminate this negative attitude, a close network involving the different players including the victims and the perpetrators, should be enhanced.

The livelihood of these young souls should not be held at ransom by treating the issue contemptuously! Many young girls wish to come out of this quagmire but cannot due to fate, if not choice. They are the most important group to work with, not because they are experienced – in the sex trade – but because they are the ones who can give out the real cause of their involvement in this business.

Prostitutes, whether morally wrong or not, contribute to the spread of HIV/ AIDS. Open discussions with such children should be enhanced with much confidentiality, especially in cultures where sexual issues are “bedroom stories.” Hiding behind the veil of ignorance cannot help stem immorality if the survival of future generations is to be assured.

The key obstacles in child prostitution are the stigma and discrimination, which are accompanied by fear. Young girls in the flesh trade should not be regarded as persona non grata. Understanding the source of a problem will help us to overcome the social stench with much ease instead of pointing fingers at each other. Ignoring these girls is the equivalent of behaving like the legendary ostrich that buries its head in the sand.

We must deal with this flesh trade before it becomes the only solution for survival. If the slave trade was long ago done away with, what hinders us from expeditiously dealing with child prostitution, now? We are human beings, we are dealing with a human error and we have to deal with it humanely!

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