By Victoria Saffa
More teenage girls are being driven into prostitution in Sierra Leone after the civil conflict. Sex was used as a weapon of choice to abuse women during the eleven years conflict, while many girls took to the trade as a coping mechanism for survival. However, even in post-conflict era, prostitution continues to blossom among teenage girls in the principal towns and cities in the country.
In Freetown, the capital city, it is common during the night to see teenage girls openly flaunting their body on the streets, beginning from Lumley in the west, to Charlotte Street area and Victoria Park in the central business district, to Bode Ose, a popular club around Texaco in the east, with the purpose being to attract men. Some could be heard calling men to ‘business’.
In a country where about 80% survive on less than $2 a day, poverty, inspired by unemployment, is the main reason for such defiant anti-social behaviour, hitherto a taboo subject and trade.
But, ironically, the boom in mining activities and establishment of new industries, as a result of increased foreign investment in the country, has failed to create the required number of jobs for the teeming young population.
Consequently, teenage girls have been attracted to the economic boom around mining towns and communities, in search of clients, mainly foreign expatriates and few Sierra Leoneans employed by the mining giants.
Other girls though have been attracted to the allure of the city, and have taken advantage of a seeming emerging drinking culture among Sierra Leones, evident in the proliferation of street side bars.
In a chat with our reporter, some of the teenage girls confirmed they have taken up prostitution so that they would get enough money to meet their material needs, consequently because of poverty.
According to Fatmata Turay, 16, she joined took into prostitution after relocating to Freetown, following the death of both of her parents in the provinces. She said her aunt with whom she stays in Freetown encourage her to date men for money, instead of continuing her education.
“I was in my aunt’s house in Freetown when she started introducing me to different men and also told me that this is what she does for a living. I later joined her in the same business to get my own living,’’ she narrated.
Zainab Kamara, 14, who plies her nocturnal trade around the Queen Victoria Park, revealed she has been living in the street for the past two years, after she ran away from her village, which she declined to name.
“I have been sleeping in market places at night with different boys and girls. One day, one of my colleagues told me to go out and look for men that will give us money. Since then I have slept with different men for money,’’ she explained.
Although prostitution is illegal in Sierra Leone, many young girls and women offer sexual service to men in return for money openly in bars and clubs around the country. Locally, women and young girls who are engage in the trade and hang out at ubiquitous bars and relaxation joints around the country are derogatorily called ‘kolonkos’.
Para-military police, known as Operational Security Division (OSD), intermittently conduct night raids on poplar clubs, bars and brothels in Freetown and other provincial cities, making indiscriminate arrests, although few people are prosecuted because most often than not, those arrested are released by the police when they part with some money.
Social workers and non-governmental organisations sporadically engage these teenage prostitutes in a bid to persuade them to abandon the street. But few are successful, either because of lack of sustainable programmes, due to limited funds and expertise, or the lack of commitment from relevant stakeholders to address the issue holistically, using an integrated demand and supply approach.