Cheap as bread, girls sell sex to survive drought crisis in Angola

Girls as young as 12 are selling themselves for sex, sometimes for as little as R6, in Angola to feed themselves and their families.
Girls as young as 12 are selling themselves for sex, sometimes for as little as R6, in Angola to feed themselves and their families.
Image: 123rf/ Rafael Ben-Ari

Young girls in southern Africa are selling sex — sometimes for less than the cost of a loaf bread — to survive a hunger crisis ensnaring tens of millions, aid agencies said on Thursday.

In Angola, girls of 12 sell themselves for as little as 40c to feed their families as the south of the country faces its worst drought in four decades, World Vision said.

The UN said a record 45 million people in southern Africa face hunger amid a “silent catastrophe” caused by repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic chaos.

World Vision said staff had seen a significant increase in girls resorting to transactional sex in Angola and Zimbabwe amid “huge levels of desperation”.

Robert Bulten, World Vision's emergencies director in Angola, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation a girl might be paid R15 for sex — enough to buy about a kilo of beans or two kilos of maize — but could get as little as R6.

“We definitely know there's an increase. It's difficult to quantify because it's taboo, but I would say a significant number (are doing this)," he said.

“We're talking about girls aged between 12 and 17.”

Bulten said the price of some staple foods had doubled since last year. With the next harvest not due until June, he predicted hunger would worsen.

In Zimbabwe, CARE International said there were reports of girls as young as 14 resorting to selling sex, especially en route to SA and near goldmines.

“Sometimes they earn as little as R5 for one sexual encounter. It's not even enough to buy a loaf,” said CARE's regional gender expert Everjoy Mahuku.

ActionAid regional adviser Chikondi Chabvuta said women and girls “on the edge of survival” were forced into transactional sex in Mozambique and Malawi.

Swathes of southern Africa have experienced their lowest rainfall since 1981, according to the UN, which said the crisis is fuelled by climate change as temperatures in the region rise at about twice the global rate.

Other countries affected include Zambia, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Aid workers said many of the girls should be in school. In some cases, they had dropped out because of deepening family poverty, but many schools had also closed.

World Vision's Bulten said the crisis in southern Angola had also increased the incidence of rape and child marriage.

Girls were at heightened risk of rape while walking long distances for water or foraging in forests, he said.

Families struggling to make ends meet may marry girls off early so they have one less mouth to feed, but Bulten said sometimes it was to keep them out of sex work.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the crisis had increased child marriage numbers in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho and Namibia.


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