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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora