November 27, 2020

EastAfrica Herald

East African Views on Global News.

Prostitution in Juba, the Inside Story

Phostine Anyango tossed and turned in her sleep. She was
unable to sleep. She agonised the whole night about her future. The mother of
four beautiful children was about to make a decision that would dramatically
change her life.
Was she willing to abandon her nine-year marriage in search
of riches in Juba, South Sudan?

She was jobless. Her husband was a casual labourer. Life in
Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums was unbearable. She recalled almost
tearfully the days she used to sell doughnuts. Those were hard and tough times.
Today, her children were out of school. She had to end their poverty-stricken
life. Her elder sister Auma resides in Juba where she engages in prostitution.
She had put up a major argument for Anyango to join her.

For days, Anyango tearfully agonised. But each day she
stared at the empty stove and looked into her children’s hungry eyes, she got
lured. Eventually she decided to travel to the newfound land of opportunities.
Auma, a seasoned prostitute, had perfected the art. She was even constructing a
stone house at her rural home in Kisumu from her proceeds. Prostitution in
Juba, says Auma, is very lucrative. She is able to target the crème de la crème
with absolute ease.
Anyango joined hundreds of East African girls flocking into
Juba daily to trade in flesh. Since South Sudan gained its independence in July
2010, its capital city Juba became a fast growing metropolitan city. It
attracts investors, tourists, NGOs and sex workers from neighbouring countries.
Kenyan girls have outsmarted the rest in the world’s oldest trade. Cathy
Groenendijk, head of a Juba-based NGO, Confident Children out of Conflict,
says: “Kenyans are street-smart. They are considered the top of the ladder
in this trade.”
After several days of research and reading, I found out that
Kenyan girls are taken to Juba by traffickers who include relatives, friends,
recruiting agencies and South Sudanese men. My research led me to a house in
Nairobi’s Ngumo estate. The house, occupied by South Sudanese nationals,
operates as an agency that takes women to Juba. Their list of jobs ranges from
bankers, hoteliers, waitresses, teachers among others. I met five girls waiting
for their documents to be processed. They each had to part with a registration
fee of Sh3,000, a valid passport, a KCSE certificate and a medical certificate.
The entire process which takes one month eventually costs each applicant
Sh60,000.
Once complete, two employees of the agency take the girls to
Juba by bus. An inside source who strictly spoke on condition of anonymity says
the girls are taken to brothels and oriented in the sex market. This particular
recruiting agency liaises with brothel owners in Juba, mainly owned by
ex-military South Sudanese officials. The girls find themselves trapped into
sexual slavery with no means of escape. A further probe on the legality of this
agency could only land me in murky waters. I decided to check with the Ministry
of Labour’s National Employment Bureau only to realise that the agency is not
registered and none of the officials know of its existence.
Though prostitution is illegal, it has grown rapidly,
causing sleepless nights to Juba authorities. They fear the city could soon
degenerate into a sex tourism destination. It is estimated that the population
of sex workers in Juba stands between 3,500 and 10,000. They are spread out in
major sex hot spots namely Jebel, Gumbo, Customs and Gudele markets.
These spots are characterised by numerous brothels, commonly
referred to as ‘sex camps’ which masquerade as ‘lodges’. A first time visitor
would be tricked by the term, only to end up in the hands of prostitutes.
Interestingly, the demand for sex trade here is as high as the supply.
In many UN organisations, NGOs and other foreign owned
companies, work policies have no family package; hence most male clients
relocate without their wives. In a bid to quench their sexual thirst, they are
forced to have sex with the variety of prostitutes scattered in Juba. A spot
check by this reporter within Jebel and the Queen of Sheba Hotel spotted many
UN vehicles at the exact time the sex work commences.
Jebel is the most preferred sex spot. Located 8km west of
Juba City, it is by far the cleanest and most organised. It is home to all
types of prostitutes. Customs, located in the heart of Juba town, is a heap of
dilapidated sex camps built from decrepit structures made of papyrus and tin
and old plastic sheeting.
According to CCC, the Juba-based NGO that rehabilitates
street children and sex workers, an estimated 400 to 600 sex workers live in
this congested makeshift brothel. I visited these places severally and discovered
that some prostitutes, particularly Congolese, women live with their children.
Many of the children were born inside the sex camps. With no proper upbringing,
there is fear of the young ones ending up like their mothers.
I marvelled at the women’s ability to endure the stench of
rotten garbage that hangs around the camps. Their clients, some rich and
affluent, are not bothered by the filth that abounds: “Well, if a man
wants sex, he can have it anywhere,” explains Miriam Kasonga, a Congolese
woman.
Prostitution in Juba brings with it bondage, crime,
involuntary servitude and even human trafficking. Women face unique challenges
such as scarcity of condoms, inability to access ARV drugs for those infected
with HIV, refusal of some clients to use condoms, and harassment by police.
Ironically, some girls have eschewed these challenges. They
are making a killing out of the sex work through certain survival skills:
“I came here to create wealth, so I target rich Dinkasb(tall, dark
Southerners) and Arabs from Khartoum, who pay me in dollars,” explains
Ruth. Ruth will never live in a sex camp and has managed to get a ‘steady
boyfriend’ who pays her rent in an up-market residence. “I make close to
$300 (Sh25,200) per night because I follow rich men in their hotel rooms.”
She calls herself a self-made prostitute who is not under the mercy of pimps,
like numerous others.To excel in Juba, says Ruth, you must strive to package
yourself.
Gut-wrenching decisions
Prostitution in Juba is multi-faceted. Some women enter into
the trade voluntarily while others are lured or coerced into it. Others who are
gainfully employed in Juba supplement their income through prostitution.
Majority however are trapped into sexual bondage. They
endure violence and humiliation. Another section engages in transactional sex,
a common trend among Kenyan girls. While women admit that they make quick money
in the trade, the dynamics force them to make gut-wrenching decisions.
One Fatuma Abdallah admitted that she had to share a used
condom which rotated among three sex workers: “In our brothel, we are so
poor and desperate. We cannot even afford to buy condoms. The little money I
make out of selling my body is only enough to feed me,” she confesses.
Fatuma is a 17-year-old school dropout who hails from Nairobi’s Eastleigh area.
Her aunt, who travelled with her to Juba in 2011, introduced her to
prostitution.Cathy Groenendijk of CCC notes that when the body becomes the only
asset for a woman, prostitution becomes an option.
In Juba, sex trade is mainly fuelled by foreigners although
some young South Sudanese girls have learnt the tricks. It occurs in sex camps.
Ethiopian sex workers are scattered around big hotels like the famous Queen of
Sheba and Juba Bridge Hotel. Some even engage in sexual acts on the road side
or on the hotel corridors. “We always want to be unique from the rest. We
act as strip dancers, escort girls or waitresses, where we solicit for sex from
our clients,” said a young Ethiopian who could neither disclose her name
nor age.
The girls complained that most male clients refused to use
condoms. This exposes them to STIs and HIV/Aids. An Ethiopian veteran sex
worker told me: “Here, one has to make life and death decisions so as to
survive. The locals who are our main clients will never agree to use condoms.
Some know they are very sick and all they want is to spread their HIV to
us,” says Afeworki Hailu. She is still nursing a knife stab on her thigh
which she earned from a client when she insisted that he uses a condom,
“He nearly killed me but I managed to escape. When you tell men to use
condoms they draw knives or guns on you.”
Phyllis Jones-Changa, of Family Health International, an NGO
funded by the US Agency for International Development that works with most
at-risk populations, describes HIV in Juba as a time-bomb. A study conducted in
2011 in four main states – Eastern, Western, Central Equatoria and Western Bahr
el Ghazal – placed HIV prevalence at 8 per cent. This is a sharp increase from
the 3.1 per cent recorded in 2009. With the rise in HIV comes the agony of
inaccessibility of ARVs, ill treatment of prostitutes in hospitals and the
subsequent death of many girls who cannot even be transported for burial in
their home countries.
The government of South Sudan is desperate to rein in sex
trade. The paradox here is that most brothels are owned by ex-military
officials, police men and the affluent. According to the girls, a remarkable
number of GOSS officials also engage in sex with the prostitutes, albeit
discreetly.
The government physically demolishes the brothels but they
are soon reconstructed. An official from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and
Sports terms the new ‘cultural revolution’ sparked by foreigners and scores of
Southerners who returned after the secession as a catalyst for prostitution.
“South Sudanese cultures which are embedded on good morals have been
corroded by foreign influence. Most women and men are exporting their
prostitution and crime skills to Juba and inculcating them in our people.”
Underage girls too are engaging in prostitution, causing a
major headache to the ministry of Gender and Child Welfare. The growing numbers
of prostitutes aged between12 to 14 is catalysed by the new wave of street
children in Juba. “This is the price we are paying for peace,” says
an official from the ministry who declined to be named. Noting that the
secession of South Sudan from Sudan was a huge accomplishment, he adds that the
country is overwhelmed by a huge number of returnees, most of who are jobless
and end up in all manner of crimes.
But neither Auma nor Anyango is concerned by the stigma
attached to foreigners and sex trade. Neither do they care if the authorities
are destroying the sex camps. They are hell bent on making ends meet and finally
returning to Kenya with loads of money.”I had to make a brutal decision. I
abandoned my husband and children for quick money here,” admits Anyango. I
met Anyango and Auma at Jebel market; one of the biggest markets in Juba.
Girls flock this market to trade in sex for any price. They
charge anything from South Sudanese pound (SDG) 10 to 100 (Sh315-3,145). Some
have rented small rooms within the market. Others convert their business
premises into lodges at night. Jebel has an estimated 600 to 800 prostitutes.
“Here, we sleep with anyone that looks like a man,
including young boys; as long as they can part with the pounds,” says
Anyango. She has no remorse for abandoning her family. On a good day, she can
make 100SDG (Sh3,145) which she considers a radical departure from the Sh100
she earned daily in Kibera.
In Juba however, Anyango’s earning is considered meagre
owing to the high cost of living. An ordinary meal of white rice, beef and a
cool drink costs 30 SDG (Sh945). In other sections of Juba, one needs at least
600 pounds to enjoy a decent meal. Anyango and her sister rents a room for
50SDG per day which means that they have to work extra hard to break even.
Failure to pay rent would compel them to move deeper into
the compound, past the garbage heaps, to very dilapidated shanties, which is
difficult to attract clients. Noting that daily rent might be hard to come by,
the sisters strategise by having regular clients, so called ‘steady boyfriends’
who in turn pay their rent and food. “This means we have to remain
attractive to our clients, lest they find other meat elsewhere.”
Most women I interviewed blamed poverty for their plight:
“No one would want to leave their families and come to sell their bodies
here,” says Mary Wangui, a bar operator who rents space at night for sex
clients. She says the high rate of poverty, especially among Kenyan women has
forced them to ‘diversify’. “Most women who rent my rooms are over 40
years; some have families back home but prefer to do prostitution in Juba.”
The bar owner introduces me to three women who are ailing from HIV
complications. “We are waiting to die and be buried here. Since we got
this disease from local men we have to spread it here,” says one.
At the Juba Teaching Hospital, the major government
hospital, some sex workers decry harassment by local nurses and negligence by
doctors. Those with no local ‘God-fathers’ or whose visas have expired bear the
heaviest brunt as they are mistreated. “In my routine checkups, the nurses
discovered that my CD4 count was so low and all they could tell me is to go and
die in my country,” confesses Margarita from Uganda. Brothel areas have no
proper health facilities save for pharmacies that over-price the drugs.
The Child Act of South Sudan 2008 prohibits child
prostitution but poverty, homelessness, and lack of a defined family unit
encourages the vice. Achan is a 14-year-old Dinka girl who lost both parents
during the war. She has no recollection of where her siblings or other
relatives are. She sleeps in the cold, just outside Konyokonyo market, one of
the oldest markets in Juba and the dirtiest of all. It has since been
demolished to pave way for new, cleaner structures.
Though shy and naïve, Achan looks older than her age. She is
inured to the cruel life. She agrees to tell me her ordeal through a
translator. “I exchange sex for food, water or soap. Sometimes a group of
police men who make night patrols rape me till morning and do not offer me
anything.” When lady luck befalls her, she is invited by other street
girls to service truck drivers at Gumbo, a major transit point for many long
distance truck drivers.
She has never used a condom because she has no access to it.
Her peers are lucky enough to be employed as part time bartenders at night,
where they also sleep with men for as little as 3SDG. Her wish is to work as a
brothel prostitute because this will assure her of a bed, toilet and bathing
water. CCC’s research also revealed that women pimps take advantage of underage
local girls by forcefully taking them and selling them to male clients.
No love in Juba, only sex
Sex workers in Juba have one mission – to make money. No one
has time for love. At Near Bros ‘Lodge’, home to a mixture of Kenyan, Ugandans
and Congolese sex workers, I meet Stella Njeri. Stella does not even look at
the faces of her clients: “I cannot even tell the colours of their
underwears,” she says. All she cares about is how much she can make in
each encounter. Another Congolese quoted by CCC in their 2011 Action research
says that she has never enjoyed sex, “I do it without any emotions. It is
like the way you use your computer in the office or a cup to drink water.”
Another Kenyan girl told how she shares her men with her
girlfriends, if they are unlucky to get clients. “I usually have a steady
client and when he finishes with me, he is free to sleep with my three other
friends while I watch.” Is she not jealous? Jealousy does not count here.
She says they all came to get money and not love.
In this lodge, I discover that Kenyan girls distinguish themselves
from the rest. They will never agree to sleep with a man without protection,
unlike their Ugandan and Congolese counterparts. They reveal that most Kenyan
girls are educated and exposed and will never agree to stoop low, at whatever
cost. “Even if it is about money, one has to think of the dangers
involved. We buy our own condoms at 5 Sudanese Pounds or sometimes get them for
free from UNFPA and other NGOs.”
Damaris Umutoni is a beautician by day and a sex worker at
night; a situation replicated by many girls in Juba, as a means of
supplementing their daily income. She left Uganda in 2010. Her parents had died
leaving her with the burden of catering for her siblings: “We literally
foraged for food and I couldn’t stand by and watch my younger ones dying while
I could do something to change the scenario.” Umutoni left Kampala for
Gulu, Northern Uganda. She started selling her body. She would later befriend a
South Sudanese man who took her to Juba and took full advantage of her.
“The man enjoyed all manner of sex with me without even caring to use a
condom.”
He even acted as her pimp by soliciting sex on her behalf
from other men and never bothered to pay her a single dime. Her sexual freedom
arrived when she discovered Customs market. Customs is a major sex hot spot
located along the main road from Yei into Juba town, between the Dr John Garang
Mausoleum and the Juba University roundabouts. Here, she was able to network
with fellow Ugandans who showed her the tricks of trade. She can now negotiate
her own price and send money to her siblings back home.
When a Juba girl tells you she works for the ‘UN’, she means
she can offer service to any man, anywhere and at any price. Auma and Anyango
admit that the trade is surrounded by many risks: “You are either worrying
about the wrath of the police or being infected with the deadly HIV or the
amount of money you need to send back home,” says Auma, adding that at any
given minute, one has to be worrying about something.
The current political situation in South Sudan, termed as
precarious by the international community, has done little to deter the efforts
of sex workers. Police patrols have been intensified in major hotspots,
including Jebel, and even though many foreign girls are nabbed for lack of
necessary papers, majority walk their way to freedom by offering free sex to
policemen. Ajok Deng, a social worker, descries the double standards that some
police apply when dealing with prostitutes, “Why would a police demand for
sex and at the same time pretend to be offering security?”
Trafficking for sex
The Counter-Trafficking Act, signed into law by President
Mwai Kibaki has been touted as a milestone in curtailing the trafficking in
persons. It offers protection to trafficking victims in Kenya. The law gives a
30-year jail term or a hefty fine of Sh30 million for convicted traffickers.
This notwithstanding, traffickers are still engaging in the act despite the
penalties.
Scores of women I interviewed admitted that they were
victims of trafficking. A simple internet advertisement that read, ‘Waitress
jobs available in Juba, attractive salary, accommodation offered, visas &
work permits organized for you’ landed Beatrice Mugambi in jeopardy. She fell
into the scam of an unscrupulous recruiting agency that once had offices in
Nairobi’s River Road area. “I parted with Sh150, 000,” she says. This
caused a financial dent in her family as her father had to sell a huge chunk of
land to ensure that her daughter would be gainfully employed in Juba. On the
material day, Beatrice met with her agent at the Kampala Coach Bus terminus
where she would be introduced to five other ‘beneficiaries’ of the waitress
job.
The agent accompanied them to Juba and ensured that all
border regulations were complied with. “She was very good to us and
ensured that we had meals and drinks at every stop. On arrival at Nimule, the
border of Uganda and South Sudan, they were each given $50 to pay for their
visas. Upon arrival in Juba the woman took them to Gumbo brothels near Juba
Bridge hotel. This is when it dawned on them that they had been duped.
“We started as cleaners and laundry women around the
brothels. The woman later oriented us into the prostitution job. She lied to us
that we would work as waitresses when the completion of the ‘big’ hotel was
done. The woman (agent) could use derogatory words, often telling the girls
that what they couldn’t do with their hands, they could perfect it with their
genitals. Soon Beatrice and her co-workers were immersed in prostitution.
Evans Kimoni, director of employment at the National
Employment Bureau cautions Kenyans to be wary of fake recruiting agencies. In
the wake of the sufferings that domestic workers undergo in countries such as
Saudi Arabia, Kimoni says that people should be extra careful. “The ministry
is aware that some of the recruitment agents purporting to recruit workers are
not genuine. They are exploiting Kenyans. No worker should agree to pay any
fees as such; expenses are paid by the employer,” he says. He adds that
anyone planning to seek employment abroad should ensure they have a valid
contract. Most people, he says, are ignorant and travel without knowing which
job they are going to do. “Some do not bother to inquire about the salary
or duration of contract.”
“When an agency claims to offer larger than life
employment packages, put a question mark,” he says, adding that his
ministry is open for all inquiries from people seeking employment abroad. His
department has availed a list of all legitimate recruiting agencies. The list
is posted on the ministry’s website which was created with the help of the
International Office of Migration.
So what measures has the ministry taken to crack down on
rogue agencies? Kimoni says his department works together with the National
Security Intelligence Service and the police to net rogue agencies and ensure
they are arrested and charged in court. In worst case scenarios, these agencies
are de-registered and its members forced to refund any money they might have
taken from unsuspecting clients. “We de-register them and circulate the
information in our websites that these agencies are fake and no longer
exist.”
The ministry is working on modalities to ensure that foreign
embassies accredited to Kenya, including Juba, have labour/employment attaches
who will intervene on behalf of workers who are exploited by their employers.
“We need to have government to government bilateral agreements as this
will ensure that Kenyans seeking employment abroad are guided under clear terms
and regulations,” says Kimoni.
Security bond
Kimoni says plans are underway to have a security bond
introduced that would compel all employment agencies to deposit a certain
amount of money to an insurance company as bond. This bond, to be signed
between an employer and the government, will serve as a guarantee for anyone
working overseas, so that in case of repatriation, the bond (money) would be
used to transport the worker back home.
“The purpose of the bond is to enable the repatriation
of the employee in the event of unforeseen circumstances. The agency will also
be required to execute a separate bond with a reputable bank or insurance firm
for wages assessed at the equivalent of one month’s wage for all employees
engaged in the agency.” Kimoni decries human trafficking of any form but
is optimistic that his ministry, in conjunction with Foreign Affairs, ILO and
IOM will curb the vice.
(All names of sex workers have been changed, to protect
their identities.)
Source: allAfrica