Family’s nightmare sex work dependence

Many women become sex workers to support their families.
Many women become sex workers to support their families.

Like her mother and her aunt, a 17-year-old high school learner has been coerced by her family to become a sex worker and is now the family breadwinner.

Felicia Mkhwanazi was taught by her grandmother and mother to sell her body for money so that she can feed her family. It is a job the females in her family are expected to do – although Felicia is hoping the cycle will end with her so that her younger siblings are spared the same fate.

HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancies

“Because of my mother and aunt, my family has never lacked food or clothes to wear because they were trained at a young age to sell sex for money. But about four years ago things started becoming difficult. I remember, I was in my first year of high school when I was trained as well. Because of my body shape men assumed that I was older and so I always lied to get what I wanted from them,” Felicia said, explaining how she started earning money for her family.

“My peers have always envied me and said I was very lucky because I was allowed to date older guys. But they don’t know that it was never my choice. I was trained to have sex with men for money, but I have never been trained to protect myself from HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancies. To tell you truth, I am not 100% sure if I am HIV negative. But I am sure of the three pregnancies I have terminated since I started,” she said.

The teenager added “I recently aborted a three-week pregnancy, which my family insisted was the right option because otherwise it would have prevented men from coming closer. I don’t know who got me pregnant, because I sleep with many men without a condom. The one man I thought was responsible for my pregnancy gave me R1 800 to abort because he didn’t want to lose his wife. I had no other choice but to do the termination.”

Felicia’s mother, Grace Mlombo, said she had also become a sex worker at a young age and had been trained to do this by her mother.

“Because of my mother, my sister and I are HIV positive. I had three kids with different men. At the age of 16 my younger sister was forced by our mother to go to Johannesburg because the prostitution industry was faster, and men paid more money. Because I already had a child I remained at home so that I could work locally.

Different methods of contraception

In 2005 I tested HIV positive. But because I was in denial I failed to use ARVs and in 2014 I became very ill. I remember disclosing my HIV status to my whole family and my mother, instead of supporting me, was so cold and I experienced discrimination from her. I remember while I was bedridden my so called loving mother called me a stupid whore. Luckily my sister and I joined a TAC branch and through all the workshops we attended, we have learnt a lot about HIV-related illnesses and ARV’s. We have been able to deal with the issues that come with HIV and discrimination,” Mlombo said.

HIV lay counsellor Bheki Khumalo said the family’s story was not uncommon.

“I understand what the family is going through, and I shall not judge. My advice to the 17-year-old is to first go to her local clinic for an HIV test, and if found HIV positive she must immediately start ARV treatment. Secondly she needs to be told that there are different methods of contraception which include the Depo Provera injection, the pill, implants and more. She must choose between these methods and make sure whatever she decides, that condoms must also be included,” Khumalo said.

Felicia’s mother explained that the females in the family were expected to grow up fast and take over the responsibility of earning money for the family. But it is something she has come to regret.

“Now I’m constantly in fear for my daughter’s safety because sometimes she goes to night clubs and most of the people she dates are the Nigerians who are known to sell drugs,” said Mlombo.

But Felicia’s choices are now limited.

A huge responsibility

“The only advice that I have ever got from my family was to never get pregnant or use condoms because if I do, men will pay me less. Now my biggest worry is my two younger siblings, because if the cycle doesn’t end with me, who knows. They might be next in the line to sleep with older men for money,” said the worried teenager.

Mlombo said the entire family was living off the money earned by Felicia.

“It’s a huge responsibility on her shoulders. It’s painful to see her going through the same road we did, because some of the men she’s going with are very abusive and there is also rape. I still have scars as a reminder of all the places I’ve been.

I’m traumatized by my own past journey and knowing the risks she is taking every weekend is killing me inside. I just hope she will complete her studies, because without education life is very hard. My sister and I are in this situation because we didn’t finish school,” said Mlombo. – Health-e News.  

Image credit: iStock  

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