Dirty and untidy, aged between 9 and 14, street children wander around popular outdoor restaurants in Abidjan, in search of potential clients for sexual favours.
By Selay Marius Kouassi, Abidjan
In the Ivorian capital, words like ‘uncle’, ‘godfather’ or ‘boss’ have a totally different meaning to street kids. “A boss or uncle is the man who ‘does it’ to us and gives us some money, food or new clothes in return”, says 11-year-old Frelimo innocently.
Sex for money
‘To do it’, a coded language unintelligible to the average lay person. But the picture becomes clearer, as Frelimo goes confidently and inconsiderately into details. The young boy and his friends actually give sexual favours to adults for a couple of coins.
These ‘sanctuaries of pleasure’ are found in the Marcory and Cocody districts of Abidjan. On Milles Maquis and Allocodrome streets, respectively, these children’s health and future are ruined in the name of ‘money gods’.
How did these children end up on the street? Like most street kids, 13-year-old Gabin Fatoh lost his parents at a very young age and had nowhere else to go. Others ran away from what they refer to as their stepmothers’ cruelty. These are the two reasons that challenge the virtues of solidarity and selflessness often associated with Africa and the African people. These reasons have forced youths to learn how to survive in the urban jungle.
The children have developed a veneer for their sex trade. Unlike ‘regular’ sex workers who usually solicit from prospective clients, the young boys are more discreet. They propose tissues, chewing gums or cigarettes for sale.
They disappeared when I mentioned child prostitution. But when I bought a whole packet of cigarettes or chewing gums, gave them a good tip and some kindness they spoke anonymously about their regular ‘clients’.
“I have an uncle who has been kind to me for a year now. He comes often and gives me money. I know he is a politician and an important figure in the country. That’s about all I can tell you”, says Turbo with in an anxious tone.
Turbo had been warned by his ‘uncle’ about revealing the latter’s identity. The boy is taking the warning seriously, especially since the disappearance of Amoi G., one of his friend. Amoi G. had revealed the identity of his ‘boss’ to social workers, who were investigating the child prostitution issue. Turbo has been careful ever since and weighs his words.
A way out
Many NGO’s have tried, in vain, to take these children off the street. Annick Camara, a social worker for AMEYA, a local child welfare organisation, explains that it is because the children lack discipline.
“Despite our limited means, we’ve tried on numerous occasions to take these children off the street, by placing them in SOS villages and other education and social centres. Many of them ran away a few days later. They went back to the street ”, Annick admits.
“They lack discipline! They take the easy way out, selling their bodies”, adds the 27-year-old social worker.
“I dropped out after primary school because my parents could no longer afford the fees. But thank Godthat I am in good health and can work to earn a living. I will never prostitute myself!”, says Amadou, who looks after his mother and four siblings. He is an inspiration and source of hope for the street children in Abidjan.