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Malawi: Child prostitution worsens in cities

Publish Date: 04 Jun 2005

Source: Nation Online
By Pilirani Semu-Banda

Three months ago, 15-year-old Mtisunge Chiwaya (real name) trekked to Blantyre with friends who assured her she would get a job as a waitress in a restaurant. Today, she is among hundreds of girl children, many as young as 10, who are being used as prostitutes in brothels that have mushroomed in Blantyre’s Ndirande and Bangwe townships and at Biwi in Lilongwe, among other places in the country.

Government, through the Ministry of Women, Child Welfare and Community Services has confirmed the practice, saying Mzimba, Kasungu, Mchinji are also involved in this practice and that Dedza is also becoming notorious for trafficking children to brothels into neighbouring Mozambique and Zambia.

Mtisunge Thursday said she especially feels sorry for the “very small children” who contract HIV/Aids after sleeping with the many customers who patronise the brothels. She said for Blantyre, the children are picked from their parental homes in Zomba, Thyolo, Nsanje and Chiradzulu after brothel owners pay some money to parents of the children. “They give the parents K1,000 and tell them that the children will be employed in restaurants,” said Mtisunge. She said older girls are ordered to teach the children “ways of pleasing men”.

Mtisunge, who herself was duped from her home in Lunzu, is based at Safalao in Ndirande where some bars have backrooms where “some clients also meet the little girls”. Nation Online sent undercover reporters who certified the existence of the rooms and talked to some “senior” girls who conformed the practice. “If they [the children] are lucky, they are asked to pay a commission of K50 from every sexual encounter they have otherwise the men pay the brothel owners for the sex they have with the children,” said Mtisunge, whose plight, like that of others, was brought to Nation Online by a pastor, whose church confirmed the incidence of brothels and abuse of children in the township. She said the maximum salary the girls receive at the end of the month is K850 but that the young ones only get about K500 per month. “When any girl shows signs of being sick, they are told to go back home but others get stranded within Ndirande as they don’t know their way to their villages,” said Mtisunge.

Child Protection Officer at Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement (Ayise) Gracious Ndalama said his organisation is carrying out research on the issue, but they have since established that “there is need for concern”. Ndalama said in Bangwe, close to Mthandizi, some brothel owners entice children from poor families, give them food and accommodation and turn them into prostitutes. He said an 11-year-old boy who recently ran away from his family, within the same area for causing trouble, was put up in one of the brothels but he left after being put in the same room as young girls who were being used as prostitutes. Ndalama said Ayise has since located the brothel and is in the process of interrogating neighbours and victims. “We’re finalising the research and we will make our findings public soon,” said Ndalama.

Member of Parliament for Lilongwe City South West Nancy Tembo also confirmed child prostitution and traficking is prevalent in her constituency, especially at Biwi where children aged between 11 and 13 are subjected to the trade. She said she has since raised alarm on the matter to human rights organisations. The legislator said the children are rude when they are advised to leave the brothels. “It’s like they’re brainwashed as they behave as if they’re enjoying themselves,” said MP Tembo.

Malawi Human Rights Commission Executive Director Emiliana Tembo said her organisation has since carried out civic education in Lilongwe City South and asked parents and all people in the area to prevent brothel owners from taking advantage of children like Mtisunge. “This practice is really inhuman. The brothel owners are so clever that when we go to them, they tell us that the children they are keeping are orphans and that they are just helping in raising them up,” said Emiliana Tembo.

Coordinator of the Child Protection Project in the Ministry of Women, Child Welfare and Community Services Justin Hamera said they have withdrawn a lot of children who have been employed for prostitution, after training over 200 child protection officers who have since started working with different communities. “We’re using dialogue whereby we ask the brothel owners to release the children. If they don’t, we involve law enforcers,” said Hamera. He said a man in Mchinji has since been sentenced to two years imprisonment for refusing to release a child he had illegally employed. Hamera said the project has been funded by the United States Embassy to the tune of K4 million and that the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation has sponsored the ministry with $3.5 million.

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