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Poverty Driving Boys into the Sex Trade
By Neville Johnson, IPS, 20 June 1998
KINGSTON, Jun 17 (IPS) - Damion Mendez is 15 years old. He has seven siblings and attends school in this capital city. His parents were separated when he was seven years old. His mother was left with the responsibility of caring for her eight children.
Mendez says he knows what it is to go without food and other basic necessities for days.
"I have been through hell, real hell. Nothing was going for me. I had to stop from school several days because I had no lunch money, no bus fare, no shoes. My mother just could not afford it, she was very poor, and I could not continue like that.
"My friends were able to have money and get most of what they want...I was introduced to some male friends after which I started to hang out with them and from there things started to change for the better.
"I started getting some money, clothes, school books and since then I have not had such problem getting lunch money, bus fares and other things. My male friends are now taking care of me," he says.
This signalled Mendez's introduction to the sex trade -- a trade which is becoming increasingly popular among teenage boys as it is among girls.
And while Donnett Grantstam of the Women's Bureau says she does not doubt that there is an increase in the number of these young persons who are turning to prostitution these days as a result of the economic situation, there are no available figures.
Psychologists like Dr. Peter Weller also attribute this phenomenon to the deteriorating economic condition facing the country.
"There is no doubt that as the country's economic crisis deepens and family members face harder economic times, and as teenagers try to cope with the difficulties of meeting their basic needs if their parents cannot come up with the things that they want, they will do anything just to get what they want and many see prostitution as the way to satisfy some of (those needs)," says Weller.
Many of these teenagers are from single-parent homes where mothers are earning the minimum wage of just under 23 dollars per week. Some 46 percent of families here are female-headed.
Over the last two years, the Jamaican economy has been in a slump. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has dropped to -2 percent, foreign direct investment has dried up, export earnings have fallen by 10 percent while the value of imports continue to rise, leaving a huge trade gap.
Overall unemployment now stands at 16.3 percent, but for those in the 16 to 30 age group it goes up to 65 percent.
Approximately 46,000 students graduate from the secondary school system annually. About 10,000 go into skills training programmes across the island, and another 6,000 ene college and university, leaving 30,000 seeking jobs -- jobs which are, for th most part, hard to come by.
Also, one in three persons here live below the poverty line which means they earn the minimum wage of 23 dollars per week or less.
"Teenage boys in Jamaica who are involved in prostitution are forced into doing so either as a direct way of making money to take care of themselves or because of peer pressure. But there is no doubt that teenage boys are becoming more and more involved in sexual activity. This is very sad, especially when they have to rely on this route for survival," says psychologist, Aaron Dumas.
Such was the case of 17-year-old Keith Matthew. His father stopped supporting him financially when he was 15. He lives with his mother who is in no position to give him the basic necessities of life. He says he was forced into the sex industry as he sought a way to earn money so that he could stay in school.
"I got involved with other guys in my age group who were involved with older men. We were all suffering financially... Our mothers had to find everything that we wanted because our fathers did not shoulder their responsibility. You see, I usually go to school without lunch money and bus fares because my mother and most of my friends' mothers could not afford it.
"Today, things are not as bad with me and my friends, we are getting enough to take us through school," he says.
"We are forced to make this (prostitution) a part of our life for the time being. Our mothers have struggled and are struggling because of the harsh economic conditions. Some of us had to find a way out of this poverty and the easiest way for some of us is by this route," adds 18 year old Mark Johnson.
Many of these young men are involved in homosexual prostitution.
In a 1994 study on working children in Jamaica, Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown, lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of the West Indies noted that prostitution is among the activities by which "working" children earn money.
Origin: Amsterdam/DEVELOPMENT BULLETIN-JAMAICA/
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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