News

Young West African Girls Face Perils of Prostitution, Trafficking

In West Africa in the war-ravaged economies of Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, one industry that thrives is prostitution. Young girls in these three countries, some as young as 10, become victims of the sex trade and face the dangers of drugs, AIDS and trafficking.

On the streets in Abidjan, prostitutes are known as serpents because of the hissing sound they make to hail down men and soldiers, driving or walking by.

One girl decked out in tight-fitting bell bottom pants and a see-through top stops a sports car, driven by a U.N. employee, and asks for $30 to share the rest of the night. That's the equivalent of a monthly salary for most in Abidjan.

The foreigner refuses and drives off. But U.N. and French peacekeepers as well as Ivorian soldiers who patrol Abidjan can often be seen picking up scantily-clad girls. Prostitutes say soldiers often rape them without paying and refuse to wear condoms, putting them at the risk of AIDS.

At a nearby hotel, now used as a brothel, an Ivorian businessman is having a fight with another prostitute, Christelle. She says she's 16, but looks younger. Most prostitutes lie about their age.

The customer leaves, accusing her of being drunk. Christelle says she's high to avoid being scared.

She also says that's what Ivory Coast is about these days. She says she needs to prostitute herself to buy her daily bread and that maybe it wasn't like that before, but that now there are just too many problems.

There's a man outside who rents plastic chairs for girls to sit while customers walk by, but there are always loud arguments here.

In contrast, in Makeni, a town in central Sierra Leone, the mood is peaceful at this rescue center for street children. Girls are playing board games. But their stories are just as horrific.

Aid worker Loretta says the prostitutes she saves are sometimes very young.

"The age, 12, 10, there is no fixed age," said Loretta. "They are trying to survive, just survive. Men can easily take them to bed because of money."

One of the center's councilors says sometimes the girls' own parents force them to become sex workers.

"The parents haven't got anything," she said. "They will just go into the streets, whatever they have they will bring it to the parents because of poverty. If you take your time, nighttime you're going to disco and you see them, they go around and even in these military barracks they go there because they want money."

In Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, in this club called the Africa Palace, across the street from a $150 a night hotel, prostitutes like Tracy, who giggles while sipping a coke, give the same reason.

She says the money men give her for sex allows her to pay her school fees and those of her little sisters. But she also hopes to meet a foreigner this way, who she says, dreamily, will take her out of Liberia.

There are so many prostitutes that the United Nations and Liberian police do nothing to stop them, as acknowledged by one disgruntled U.N. employee.

"Prostitution, it's not that I don't care but if a woman is free to sell her body and if she has a passport and she can go whenever she wants I don't care," she said.

The head of the small United Nations' five-member anti-trafficking team here, Celhia de Lavarene, says she understands why prostitutes do it, because they are so poor.

Her job is to make sure they aren't taken into criminal networks and trafficked across borders. She says being a trafficked prostitute is even worse, because these girls have their papers taken and owe traffickers huge sums of money.

The French U.N. worker started her job by rescuing 30 white Eastern European girls who had been brought to Liberia for foreigners who wanted prostitutes but refused to sleep with African women.

Despite her efforts, she says trafficking in and out of Liberia is still taking place.

"We have noticed trafficking from Liberia to London because I had someone in London calling me and explaining to me that Liberian girls were trafficked," said Celhia de Lavarene. "And we had some Sierra Leonean girls being trafficked from Sierra Leone to Liberia."

Mrs. De Lavarene's job is scheduled to end in July, and after that, she is afraid trafficking will resume at a much higher level.

"I'm not going to tell you that we're successful," she said. "It's just now it's on hold, it did not stop. So my fear is that as soon as I leave the traffickers will know I left."

Mrs. De Lavarene who has done most of her work at night in and around the nightclubs of Monrovia, like here outside the Africa Palace, says it's a question of offer, demand and impunity. She says there are so many men willing to pay for sex and so few people really committed to cracking down on the growing trade, to the detriment of all the girls.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs