Prostitution is no longer taboo in Burundi. It is quickly becoming a widespread phenomenon, due to the deteriorating living conditions of the Burundian population. Today, prostitution is openly practiced across the whole country.
By Marie-Claire Ndikumana, Bujumbura
“We are prostitutes because there is no other way,” says Christine Inamahoro. We meet Christine in a bar in Buyenzi, one of the thirteen districts of the Burundian capital, Bujumbura.
After nightfall, people are sitting around a large dance floor, sipping their beers. The women outnumber the men. One after another, the girls take their clients to one of the 12 adjacent rooms.
At the age of 14, Christine left her village in the north-western province of Bubanza, where she worked in the fields, just as all teenage girls. Influenced by stories of girls returning from the city, she decided to move to Bujumbura.
“I saw my friends coming back from Bujumbura. They were very pretty and nicely dressed. I was jealous and wanted to know where they got all that money from, so I decided to follow them,” she says.
In the capital, Christine started working as a baby sitter to make ends meet. But she was not satisfied with this job and so she quit to ultimately become a prostitute.
“My friend heard that I was no longer working and invited me to the bar,” she says. “She bought me a drink and a meal, and asked me if she could hire a room for me so I could start working. I agreed.”
Back to prostitution
Some time later, however, Christine met a young man who made her give up her life as a prostitute. They got married and had a child together. But the marriage was short-lived, as her husband beat her daily. When Christine finally decided to leave him, she was confronted with a big challenge: life.
With her parents already dead and a child to feed, the young mother became homeless overnight. She saw no way out but to go back to prostitution.
“The living conditions of the Burundian population are deteriorating every day. Entire families are practically destitute,” says the Burundian sociologist Paul Nkunzimana. According to him, these conditions do not only lead to more prostitution, but can also result in higher crime rates and drug use.
There’s only one solution, says Nkunzimana: “The current price hike the government is pushing through contributes to the worsening of living conditions. The government should do something about it.”
Prostitution used to be taboo in Burundi. It was a crime punishable by death. But today, it is an open and widespread practice. According to observers like Nkunzimana, poverty must be reduced urgently.
Others argue that if prostitution is not banned, there will be an increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS in Burundi. According to figures from UNAIDS (the United Nations programme for HIV/AIDS), approximately 150,000 Burundians are infected every year, with an estimated 13,000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths.
Lonely, abandoned and tired
Christine Inamahoro does not know whether she will ever be able to stop working as a prostitute. She feels lonely and abandoned:
“In the beginning I was scared, but my friend encouraged me, saying that I would get used to it. I still do it but I am tired of it. I want to stop, but there is no one to help me get out,” she says, before returning to the dark corners of the Bujumbura bar, in search of clients.