By Staff Reporter
(This article was initially published on Sowetan on June 4, 2021)
An increasing number of girls, some as young as 15, from farming plots and informal settlements in the Vaal have turned to sex work along the R42 to Parys in Free State and the R533 to Potchefstroom in North West.
One of the girls is 17-year-old *Patricia (not real name). She said she joined the growing number of young sex workers after she lost her job as a waitress when the country went into lockdown in March last year.
She said her life was promising before then, even though she had lost her mother before the lockdown was announced.
“I never said I would find myself here but because I’m from a child headed household, it’s just me and my unemployed older brother at home and we live by hustling. Selling my body was my way out,” she said.
The fact that she has a four-year-old child is indicative of her early and unlawful sexual experience because having a child at 13 means she was way below the legal age of consent, 16.
Muvhango informal settlement where she stays is an impoverished settlement even by the standards of nearby Sebokeng neighbourhoods, where unemployment is rife.
She told Sowetan that she was introduced to prostitution by her friends who had been doing it long before her.
“There are no jobs here. I tried looking for domestic work in the farms because I couldn’t finish school due to financial challenges. Sex work brings me quick money and I don’t bother anyone,” she said.
Patricia arrives at her working spot on the intersection of R42 and R533 about 11am and knocks off about 5pm. She said she makes about R450 on a good day and if she gets an overnight pick up this can go up to R850.
“It’s dangerous and risky because I’m in the bushes having sex with strangers who sometimes refuse to pay me and intimidate me after they have used me. I know the public has their opinions on us but we risk our lives just to put bread on the table and feed my daughter.”
When Sowetan arrived in the area about 10am, there were about four girls touting for clients. At 12 midday their number had increased to 15 young women of mixed ages.
Locals in the informal settlements about Phomolong in Sebokeng said the number of girls and young women selling sex on the roads has increased.
A shop owner in the area, Lizel Grootboom, said of the youngsters: “They are throwing their lives away to drugs and trading themselves at risk each day .We just watch now but it’s saddening to look at.”
Despite the cold of the Vaal region in winter, the girls dresses scantily, including in miniskirts, to attract business. The women told Sowetan that jobs were hard to come by in the area.
They all carry hand bags with body sprays, condoms and lubricants.
A 15 year-old sex worker said: “I don’t have parents and I live with my aunt, who is blind and cannot work. I lost my virginity here and got paid good money so I realised It was a lucrative business.”
She said during the hard lockdown she survived by doing house calls at neighbouring farms where some of her clients lived.
She said she wanted to leave the trade, but did not know how else she would earn money to survive.
Another sex worker, *Zinhle (not real name), who is a mother of two and married, said her husband did not know that she was a sex worker.
“I leave home for work like any normal person. He knows me for being a cleaner at a hospital, so what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” she said. She said she charged R70 to pedestrians and between R100 to motorists.
“I make about R7,000 on a good month so I can buy food and clothes. I don’t like this but if I could find a decent job and be employed I would stop. We are putting our lives at risk.
“Some of our co-sex workers vanish and never return. We don’t know if they are killed or they decided not to return,” she said.