Give them shelter – girls selling sex to survive in Cote d’Ivoire
In Côte d’Ivoire destitute children – particularly girls selling sex to survive – urgently need shelters where they can receive care and support, says a local NGO monitoring girls who sell vegetables by day, sex by night.
On 2 December 13-year-old Fanta died days after she was reportedly gang-raped at a bus station near where she and friends exchanged sex for money and food.
“This is just one of many such cases – there was nowhere for her to go for care and support,” said Irié Bi Tra Clément, founder of local NGO Cavoequiva, which means let us unite in the Gouro language. He and other aid workers, having received a call about Fanta’s situation, met with her and sought a care centre where they could take her.
Most of the girls Cavoequiva assists tell the NGO they were brought to Abidjan from rural Côte d’Ivoire by relatives or family friends, who said the girls could make a living as porters or vendors in Adjamé market. The girls said later their hosts forced them into selling sex, according to NGO staff.
With the help of aid workers Fanta – whose parents are deceased – was examined at a local hospital, but that was already a few days after the rape, Irié said. She then returned to a cement stall in the market; she died hours later. The medical exams showed she was HIV-positive and quite ill, Irié learned.
“It is deplorable what is happening to these children,” he said.
Cavoequiva is appealing to international NGOs, the government, donors and the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire for help to set up shelters in Abidjan for needy, exploited children estranged from their families.
“Despite the arrival of NGOs in Côte d’Ivoire in recent years…there is a glaring lack of shelters for children in distress who require long-term care,” Cavoequiva says in a January paper.
For Irié, adequate support – including in education and skills training – would go a long way to keep the girls off drugs and out of prostitution. In extensive interviews with Cavoequiva staff, girls who sell sex at Adjamé talked about the various widely available narcotics they take when they work at night.
Violence against girls in general is on the rise and resources to assist victims are limited, said Désiré Koukoui, director of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) in Côte d’Ivoire.
“Girls are increasingly subject to abuse and violence in homes as well as in the streets,” Koukoui told IRIN from Abidjan, where BICE runs several shelters for disadvantaged and abused children. “We are seeing this more and more, especially during the recent years of conflict in Côte d’Ivoire. It is necessary to provide special assistance for their specific needs.”
He said there are centres for such victims but in insufficient numbers. “It is a problem of resources; even the existing centres do not have enough.”
Shelters for sex-trafficked children require considerable resources and that is a principal reason for a shortage, according to Tatiana Kotlyarenko, executive director of Enslavement Prevention Alliance West Africa, which fights human trafficking particularly the sex trade in women and children.
“It all goes back to the same issue – total lack of resources made available for victims,” she told IRIN. “So many children in the world die daily because there is no safe place for them to go for protection, while millions of dollars go into trainings, research and policy. I think it is time for the international community to shift the focus to the priority – the victims themselves.”
She said while all the other elements in the fight are essential, existing laws cannot be enforced or plans implemented if effective victim protection is not in place.
The Ivoirian government – not a signatory to the UN protocol against human trafficking – in 2007 adopted a two-year action plan for exploited and trafficked children, calling in part for strengthening laws to protect children and improving care and support for child victims.
Officials with the Family and Social Affairs Ministry were unavailable for comment on the status of the measures or the need for shelters.