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Thursday 23 October  
A prostitute in Durban, South Africa
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Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

"I felt like a slot machine"

Published on : 13 August 2013 - 10:36am | By RNW Africa Desk ((C) Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP )
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Ange was 15-years-old when she ran away from home. She moved in with some friends and had to sell sexual favours to make ends meet. She ended up just one of many exploited sex workers living in utter misery in a cluster of rundown houses in the Bukavu district of Kadutu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

By Yves Zihindula and Gaïus Kowene, Bukavu

Five years after coming to Bukavu, Ange was a mother and still struggling. One night after trawling unsuccessfully through the local nightlife in search of clients, she is approached in a club by a strange, elderly woman. The two ladies get acquainted over drinks. “She offered to take me back to her place and help me make it as a sex worker,” recalls Ange.

A helping hand?
Perhaps naively, Ange jumped at the chance of moving into one of a group of 27 boarded-up houses. “The woman reassured me that I could leave my son with her and she would look after him. It sounded as though she just wanted to help me get through my rough patch. It all looked good.”

The next morning the young mother and son move into their new home which they share with two other young women, also prostitutes.

The elderly woman quickly sets the “rules”, especially with regards to rent: fifteen dollars per person per week. “It was a bit strange because she never mentioned earlier what the total rent amount was.” Ange agrees as she is more concerned about her son. She hopes her charm and a bit of luck will help her make enough money.

Dream turns sour
But soon, the dream turns into a nightmare. Clients are scarce and she is unable to earn enough to pay the rent. “The woman did not like this. So she decided to find us clients with whom she directly negotiated the rates,” Ange explains. “I felt like some kind of slot machine. At times, I would sleep with several different men as they walked into my room.”

Today, the 23-year-old Ange is in a healthcare centre following an attack of malaria. Her son has joined her, away from the bars and clubs.

“I am homeless at the moment and hardly have anything to eat. I rely on other patients’ food to feed my son,” says the young mother, before admitting that these “tough times” have made her reflect on her future. “I think I am ready to return to a normal life. But I doubt my family will welcome me back.”

Hospital arrest
Every time the wind blows, Ange adjusts the grey scarf around her neck. A male nurse prowls suspiciously around us as we talk, as though to remind us that we are in a medical facility.

But actually he’s watching us for another reason. Ange has been put under house arrest for the past month by the resident doctor. She is not allowed to leave the small Kangabo healthcare centre until her hospital bill is settled.

Discussion

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Odubamowo Adeyinka Idowu 14 August 2013 - 4:21pm / Nigeria

I dont blame the doctors for such actions. A lot of times doctors have engaged themselves in humanitarian services such as paying the bills; some have even stood in for patients who promise to come back but at the end of the day, runs away. A lot of doctors have even donated their blood to save an unknown life. But that not withstanding, We should still learn to help even if it hurts.

For her, I really pity for her. But the question I would like to ask her is - Why did she ran away from home in the first instance?

The deed is done, May God help her find her feet. This would be a lesson for young girls out there who feels 'out there' is sweet.

anonymous 13 August 2013 - 3:21pm / Malaysia

Reading this story it strikes me as women who are lured into this kind of abuse always get the roughest deal. Whether you live in Africa or in Asia this is what happens. Being "kept" in hospital because the bill is not paid, being forced to become "a sex slot machine" machine because there are no customers or being put behind locked doors and your keeper keeps the key and your passport it is and always will be the most despicable form of female exploitation. There must be a way to help this most unfortunate woman, the hospital bill could never be so high that it could not be raked together with a bit of communal effort.

Anonymous 13 August 2013 - 1:36pm / Cuba

She is not allowed to leave the small Kangabo healthcare centre until her hospital bill is settled.
THAT IS HUMANITY WHY RNI DON"T SENT THE CASE TO OMS
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