Sex workers accused of targeting street children

Some sex workers on the streets. Some sex workers in Mbale City have been accused of luring street children into sex, leading to rampant new HIV infections. Photo/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Dr Stephen Watiti, the former board chairman of the National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks in Uganda, said children should be protected from sexual exploitation at all cost.
  • Simon Nashimolo,14, a street child, said: “It’s true some of our colleagues buy sex workers but I think it’s because of peer pressure from other people. The biggest challenge is that they don’t protect themselves. We request police to arrest the sex workers who are having sex with teenage street children”.  

The rampant sexual exploitation of children on the streets by sex workers in Mbale City is putting minors at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), officials have said.  

Mr Robert Wandwasi, the Mbale District HIV/Aids coordinator, said during a recent health camp that involved testing for HIV/Aids, most children on streets were found to be HIV-positive. 

“When we interacted with them during counselling, we discovered that they engage in sexual intercourse with sex workers,” Mr Wandwasi said on Sunday during an interview.
He added that the hard economic situation worsened by rising costs of living is forcing sex workers to give in to street children for little money ranging from Shs2,000 to Shs5,000.

“We have taken a number of street children for treatment because some of the sex workers are engaging in sex with these children yet they are HIV-positive,” he said, adding that HIV prevalence rate in Mbale stands at 4.5 percent.

Mr Wandwasi further said people who are in long-term relationships have multiple sexual partners, which makes the situation worse.  
“The age between 15 and 24 years, who got infected with HIV in the last one year in the country is 20,000. Out of that, girls who have been infected with HIV are 15,000 while boys are 5,000,” he said.

Dr Stephen Watiti, the former board chairman of the National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks in Uganda, said children should be protected from sexual exploitation at all cost.  
“It’s a criminal case for sex workers having sex with children. Police and other authorities should intervene to save the lives of these children,” Dr Watiti said.

Simon Nashimolo,14, a street child, said: “It’s true some of our colleagues buy sex workers but I think it’s because of peer pressure from other people. The biggest challenge is that they don’t protect themselves. We request police to arrest the sex workers who are having sex with teenage street children”. 

The Elgon regional police spokesperson, Mr Rogers Taitika, said: “We request leaders to make formal reports to the police to enable us to start investigating the matter and arrest the culprits to face the law.” 
Ms Bennah Namono, the head of women activists in Bugisu Sub-region, said police should arrest sex workers found having sex with children.  
“The authorities should also come in and force the children to leave the streets and go back to their homes,” she said.

Ms Naomi Mujuni, the programmes director at Uganda Network of Sex Workers-led Organisations, an umbrella body for all sex workers, declined to comment on the matter, saying she wanted more time to research about the allegations.

Mr Steven Masiga, the spokesperson of Inzu Yamasba, the bugisu cultural institution, said the city council should outlaw the practice of hawking sex on the streets of Mbale City.
 “The street children should also be sensitised on the imminent dangers of ‘conjugal’ activities with sex workers, specifically unprotected sex,”  he  said.

Mr Sam Mulyanyuma, the Mbale City senior labour officer, said some children are lured into sex due to peer preasure.  
He said there is need for the council to make a deliberate decision take the children off the streets. 
“We want to eliminate these street children from the city but we have nowhere to take them.  We need enforcement, ordinance and also good parenthood,” he said, adding that Mbale remand home, which was constructed to cater for only 45 children, currently has more than100 children.

Mr James Kutosi, the Mbale City spokesperson, blamed the increasing number of sex workers on police laxity.
“Some of the police officers and private security guards collect money from sex workers to allow them to operate. This is fuelling it,”  Mr Kutosi said.