Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sex Trade: Migrants and the southern African sex trade

Last March Janet (not her real name) took a hard look at her prospects and made a drastic decision. Equipped with little more than a friend's phone number, she joined the growing number of Zimbabweans who cross illegally into South Africa every day, looking for a better life.

She felt she knew all about living in South Africa because a friend came home regularly from Johannesburg with gifts for everyone and stories of how well she was doing, and had suggested Janet join her.

Her friend seemed surprised when Janet called to say she had arrived. She said she could not meet her, but directed Janet to a hotel in the city where she could get a job. The hotel's bar was populated by women in skimpy clothing, but Janet did not immediately grasp the situation. "I had never done that kind of work before," said the shy 23-year-old. "It was my first time."

According to Khopotso Nakin, director of the New Life Centre for Girls, an NGO, Janet's story is far from unusual: of the estimated 10,000 commercial sex workers in Hillbrow, a rough inner-city neighbourhood where many hotels double as brothels, 20 percent come from other parts of Africa.

"I never heard of any girl who came here to do sex work," Nakin said. "They come looking for a better living and hoping that their lives will change. Then, most of them get a surprise when they come here."

Without legal documents, and far from their homes in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and elsewhere, newly arrived female migrants are often forced into sex work simply because they lack alternatives.

Typically, the women have had few educational opportunities and many dropped out of school. Even with the necessary documents, their chances of finding other work are slim.

"Most say they want to move out [of the hotels], that they know they're being exploited and would leave if they could," Nakin explained. "But they can't find work and they're stigmatised for what they do."

Full Article: SOUTHERN AFRICA: Migrants find sex trade a dead end street

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Photo: Copyright
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