14-year-old turns to prostitution to survive

Alex Matlala

Alex Matlala

A poverty-stricken 14-year-old girl left school to work as a prostitute to support her three siblings.

So thriving is the business that she is able to make up to R400 a night.

Mapula Malatji*, a Grade 9 pupil, left school early this month to join the women who sell their bodies on the streets of the mining town of Phalaborwa in Limpopo.

Malatji, whose single mother died a few years ago, said she had to support her 12-year-old brother and sisters aged seven and four.

"It was difficult for us after our mother died. I had to do something to ensure that we did not go to bed with empty stomachs," she said.

"In the beginning we depended on relatives and neighbours for food. They also provided us with second-hand clothing. They got tired of helping us and left us to fend for ourselves.

"Some days are bad and others are good. On good nights I make up to R400 and on a bad day I make less than R200, especially when it is cold," she said.

Malatji said most of her clients were tourists who visited the Kruger National Park.

"They pay about R100 a session while locals can only afford R50," she said.

Mokgadi Maenetja*, also 14, left her family in Tzaneen for prostitution. Her parents died in a car accident in 2003. They had both worked on a farm, earning less than R700 a month.

Being the eldest of three, Maenetja had to make sure that she put bread on the table. The other children are eight and six.

"I had no option but to make money," Maenetja said.

"I have slept with men of all ages and professions - policemen, contractors, shop owners, doctors and teachers," she said.

On Wednesday night Sowetan visited a spot where there was a hive of activity with women jostling for positions to attract potential clients.

Gracious*, a mother of three from a village near Phalaborwa, said: "The town receives more than 200000 tourists. Our prostitution business thrives when these tourists are around."

She said she believed the money they made matched the monthly salaries of teachers and police officers.

Melita Ramoshaba*, 37, from a village near the Namakgale Township, acknowledged that the streets are dangerous.

"We are sometimes physically abused by our clients who want more than they paid for.

"Some of them accuse us of stealing their valuables. They assault us and sometimes take all the money we have made in the night," she said.

Precious Baloyi*, 15, of a village near Tzaneen, started to work as a prostitute two years ago. She left school in Grade 6, allegedly after a fight with her stepmother over food.

"I like the fact that I'm able to keep more than R500 in my pocket daily after my chores.

"It is only that the police give us a hard time, interfering with our business," Baloyi said.

She claimed police officers sometimes pretended to arrest them and took them to the bushes where they would forcibly have sex with them and later dump them far from town.

Some women said they had expanded their business to Burgersfort because of the mines.

"Miners pay better than all professionals," they said.

Phuti Seloba, spokesman for the provincial department of health and social development, advised orphaned children to contact welfare offices for social grants. (*Not their real names)