/** labr.global: 326.0 **/
** Topic: Child Sex Industry Booms In S.A. **
** Written 10:30 PM Jul 23, 1996 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
From: Institute for Global Communications
[S] OUTH AFRICA is well on its way to developing a child-sex tourism trade which could rival Thailand or the Philippines, child-care workers warn.
For as little as food for their family's pots, children as young as eight can be bought in the Cape -- and very little is being done to stop the burgeoning trade in children.
Research has shown that in Cape Town the industry is increasingly organised, with children either abducted and forced into prostitution, or exploited by their parents to earn income for their families.
In Durban and Johannesburg, reports are emerging of children being held as virtual prisoners in brothels and forced to service clients procured by their "pimps".
"South Africa has already created the fertile ground for the international body market and it is going to take an enormous effort to stop this from developing into a crisis as experienced in the Philippines, South America and the Far East," said Bernadette van Vuuren of the children's rights organisation Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan).
Van Vuuren was speaking at a workshop last week organised by the children's magazine Molo Songololo to highlight the commercial sexual exploitation of children. It was attended by 18 organisations which for the first time began sharing the information they have on child prostitution in South Africa.
Their initiative was sparked by an invitation to the South African government and non-governmental organisations to attend a world congress on commercial sexual exploitation of children in Sweden next month.
"Our research into the trade in children indicates that our country is a sitting duck for the infiltration of organisations which prey on vulnerable children in countries affected by poverty and low levels of protection for their most vulnerable," said Van Vuuren.
In Cape Town, criminals have already begun exploiting the lucrative child-prostitute market. Van Vuuren said it was common knowledge on the Cape Flats that gangs controlled prostitution rings which abducted girls from their homes and sold them in Sea Point and the city centre.
"These gangs are no longer the street-roaming gangsters of the past but have become organised and sophisticated in line with international standards. The harsh reality is that communities are powerless to intervene in any way to stop this exploitation of their children," she said.
Children are often introduced to hard drugs like cocaine to ensure their co-operation with their gangster pimps who also supply them with drugs, or are beaten into submission.
"Rent Boys" have been operating for years in downtown Cape Town and street children -- boys and girls -- have often turned to prostitution as a way of earning money.
Escort agencies, massage parlours and night clubs close to Cape Town's Waterfront and harbour area have also allegedly been hiring young girls to "entertain" foreign seamen. Some set girls up in flats and pay them an allowance so they can be available exclusively when the seamen dock in South African ports.
"Taxi Queens" is the term used in Mitchell's Plain to describe the sexual exploitation of young schoolgirls by taxi owners. The children are allegedly paid to sit up front and entertain drivers while they work and are then sexually exploited at the end of the day.
In recent research into child prostitution conducted at schools in the Western Cape, the issue of what is commonly referred to as "survival sex" was highlighted. Children from those schools studied were being prostituted by either their families or as a result of being abandoned with no source of income.
In rural areas children are sent to shebeens, migrant-labour hostels and to farm workers who pay either in cash or with food. "Research indicates that this is a common reality in poverty-stricken communities in this country. A case was reported to us of an eight-year-old boy prostituted by his family as their only source of income," said Van Vuuren.
A social worker in the rural town of Napier recently conducted an awareness programme on sexual abuse at a school. By the end of the day 16 children had reported to her that they had been abused and by the end of the week she had 66 names.
David Fortune, project manager of Streets, an organisation working with street children, agreed that many girls living on the streets turn to prostitution as a way of making money quickly.
The organisation runs a drop-in centre where street children are offered services including counselling and it is in these sessions where Streets measures the scale of child prostitution.
"Typically, these girls have been abused at home and tend to have less self-worth because of their experiences. They believe they're enjoying some form of elusive freedom, that they are in control of their own lives without parental authority. But when they fall pregnant on the streets that myth is shattered," said Fortune.
He said most street children lived in groups and often the girls were sexually abused within the group and forced into prostitution as a way of earning money for their cohorts.
His information was underscored by Renee Rossouw of Ons Plek, a shelter for street girls. But she said a survey conducted by the project had indicated that the percentage of street boys and girls involved in "survival sex" was equal.
Another Cape organisation which has been forced to confront the ugly reality of child prostitution is the Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat). Although the organisation was established to promote the health and safety of adult sex workers, they discovered children involved in the industry as well.
"We have found that prostitutes are vehemently opposed to forced sex work and child prostitution. They have told us that they are very worried about the increasing numbers of children involved in the industry and that some of their clients are requesting young children," said Sweat's psychologist and researcher, Ilse Pauw.
"In the sex industry there are strong moral codes about what is right and wrong. The sex workers we deal with are outraged when they see under-aged children on the streets."
Inspector Ernie Riedeman of the Child Protection Unit said the unit did not have the capacity to do the kind of observation on the streets required to break child prostitute rackets.
"At present we have 900 cases with only 18 detectives in our unit. We have had some breakthroughs, like exposing the Internet site which advertised child prostitutes to tourists in Germany," Riedeman said.
The organisations agreed to continue sharing information, to lobby the government to take strong measures against child prostitution and to launch a campaign to highlight the problem publicly.
The South African government will attend next month's international conference and has already submitted its amendments to a draft declaration and agenda for action.