Do you know where your kids are?

2013-03-31 10:00

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A short stroll from the heady noise of teens mixing booze and cooldrink, Jackson Mutie finds something more sinister – teenagers selling sex

It’s Friday night and noisy teenagers are thronging the open-plan eating area on the first floor of this Durban shopping mall.

Most are feasting on pizza (there’s an irresistible offer of buy one, get one free).

Every table has up to three bottles of what looks like cooldrink.

But some are furtively adding alcohol to the bottles, elevating the noise level from calm buzz to raucous.

But when I leave and make my way towards Durban’s beachfront at 10pm, it’s clear that something more sinister than teenage drinking is going on.

Girls as young as 16 are negotiating the price of sex.

Police have tightened up security significantly at the recently revamped beachfront, which has been rediscovered by the locals and is packed during school holidays and over long weekends.

So the sex trade has retreated behind the closed doors of nearby nightclubs along Mahatma Gandhi Road, two blocks away.

Inside one of them, a diminutive teen tugs my arm and smiles.

I offer to buy her a cooldrink.

“I am 18,” she insists, producing her ID.

She’s a student at a city college and stays with her single mother in Chatsworth.

She turned to prostitution, she says, to get extra cash. “Most of my college mates have lots of money from their parents. I have to fit in.”

She introduces me to her friend, Lisa*, who is 17 and learning the ropes. She is in it for fun, she says.

“Fun?” I ask in disbelief.

“Yes, my friends told me it is cool and I can make some money.”

“Do you know the risks?” I ask.

“Of course. I carry my own pack of condoms. Also, the government says Aids has decreased, so the risks are lower!”

A middle-aged man comes into the club and they make a beeline for him.

As I leave, I speak to the security guard.

“Sometimes I sit here and watch these young girls and shudder. Some are my children’s age,” he says, pointing to a table of three girls and an older man.

“Those girls are not even 18. Not all are prostitutes. Some just want easy money, so they drug their clients.”

He adds, pointing: “Like that old man. He has most likely been drugged. One will volunteer to take him to a room, where she will empty his pockets.”

I cross the street towards a large building where teenage boys ply their trade.

I approach one. He is barely 20.

He thinks I’m a customer and quickly gives me his rates of between R1 000 for one sex session and R5 000 for the night.

Another approaches. He looks drugged.

He says he is 19, a university student who lives with his family in wealthy Durban North.

He does this to pay his gambling debts.

He says most of his “colleagues” are students out to make money.

Some are on drugs and others want to live large.

It is risky because some male clients are violent, but on good days he makes R5 000 a night.

He now drives himself to college.

His father thinks he trades shares on the stock exchange and doesn’t ask too many questions.

Asked how old his fellow sex workers are, he says: “Mostly between 16 and 30. Most clients prefer the young ones – not older than 20.”

I leave and walk along Florida Road, and enter another strip club.

An 18-year-old stripper says she works as an intern during the day. She is saving to move out of her parents’ home.

“What they pay me is peanuts. In fact, it only meets my transport and meals in the company cafeteria. Here I make ends meet,” she explains.

Does it just end there?

“We strip and get paid for it, but we have owners (pimps) here who watch over us and ensure we sleep with men for a fee. He pockets some of the money and the rest is mine,” she says.

Asked if all of them have sex with clients, she gestures towards another stripper and says: “Well, not all. Like that one lives with her parents in Glenwood and is a student. She is just here for fun. In fact, her parents bought her a car when she turned 18.”

Glenwood is an old-money suburb where colonial-style mansions sell for millions.

Across the road, another club specialises in young men who are paid to have sex with women.

“Very few are men,” says Mark*, a full-time gigolo at the club.

“Most are young boys who have been introduced to it by their friends. They are what most mature women want.”

A female patron sidles up to me. She offers me R1 000 for a quickie in her car.

She says her husband is on a business trip to Mozambique and she is a regular here.

“I love these hot 20-year-olds, though I would hate it if my son ever did the same,” she whispers.

A young man walks over and she kisses him on the cheek.

“Meet Maurice,” she says.

At almost 5am I walk to my car past many young people struggling to catch early morning taxis, perhaps to get home before their parents wake up.

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