Saturday, October 31, 2009

Child Prostitutes

Last Saturday night, Danielle and I went with Major Honorine and her Bukavu city police officers to apprehend a group of teen-age prostitutes.

Major Honorine is charged with protecting les femmes de Bukavu from violence, abuse and exploitation —a big job. Earlier in the day when Danielle interviewed the Major, she explained how young girls abandoned by their families quickly become prostitutes in order to survive on the streets. Being fascinated, we asked if we could come along on a stake-out they planned that night.

This group of teens solicits Tanzanian truck drivers who park their big-rigs, stuffed with Chinese goods arriving from Mobassa, near the Post Office in a deserted part of town.

We could hear the girls singing to announce their arrival. Listening to their sweet voices, I thought they were a choir until Roger, our interpreter, started laughing and translated for us: “I love you, you love me. Let’s make love together.”

There were over 12 girls in this group. The police managed to snag five of them; the others being forewarned had jumped onto moto taxis and disappeared into the night. The girls were taken to Federation de Solidaritie des Hommes (FSH), a transit and treatment house for the many unwanted children living on the streets of Bukavu.

                                                  Roger and Danielle prepare to interview girls.
On Monday, Danielle, Roger and I went back to interview the girls, accompanied Fernando, the agency director. He explained that the girls’ placement is temporarily; their faces were not to be photographed as they are minors.


The girls ranged in age from 15 to 18 years. All lived on the street, three of them for over one year. Besides the Tanzanian truck drivers, they find business in small pubs. All said they were beaten and often left unpaid. All said they wanted a chance for a better life, off the streets. Two are pregnant.

One girl was thrown out of house with other siblings when her mother remarried; another had been brought into the business by her older sister when she was only ten years old, the family so poor the children were starving. One had lived at Ek’Abana until she was 15, then turned to prostitution when she had nowhere to go. The 16-year old had married young, had two children, and then been banished by her husband who wanted to take another wife. . . all tragic stories told matter-of-factly.

Today I go back to the half-way house with Fernando to talk to the girls again, this time about their future. FSH first choice is to return them to their original homes, although this seems improbable to me since the families were too poor to support them in the past.

The girls have also run wild for some time now and are unaccustomed to living by the rules of others. How sincere they are about changing their lifestyle we shall find out later today. I will keep you posted.

With love and gratitude,

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