New Telegraph

Opebi: A booming child ‘sex selling’ haven

•…use offices as brothers at night

The sale of sex is not necessarily an exclusive vocation. Over the years it has often been engaged in alongside other income-generating activities. For younger women, prostitution was a supplement to employment in both the formal and informal sectors. This has become a flourishing trend that has given an even gorier face to an old trade, reports ISIOMA MADIKE

These alternate forms of earning an income mostly existed in the informal sector. In the recent past, children combined sex peddling with alternate forms of economic activities, mostly hawking. Though the Lagos State authorities were agitating against the widespread practice of street trading, this is essentially because there is no street in the city where hawking or selling outside the houses does not take place. Before now, prostitution was closely linked to beer brewing, and bar girls traversed the fluid space between catering to male customers in bars and prostitution.

Soon, a major concern surfaced in a narrative, which was the close link between street hawking by girls and prostitution. The former was seen as facilitating entry into the sex market. Some of them who worked during the day as seamstresses, in shops, offices, and dress smartly engaged in prostitution at night by soliciting for clients in bars, clubs, and restaurants visited by members of the upper class, acquiring in the process the wealthy among them as patrons.

A quick glance could not reveal that Joy had packed such a considerable but dreaded experience into her life. She had gone through all the evils associated with prostitution. She is, certainly, a pretty girl at 15; light complexioned with radiant skin and the right figure. The smile on her face runs contrary to the life she had led. Yet, the glow on her rosy cheeks confirmed the fact that she was very young.

Joy, from Benue State, is supposed to be under the protective shield of a caring parent. She cut an innocent look but pitiable sight as she sat dejected in front of a dingy house that became her abode since she was forced by circumstance to live a life of her own. She had followed a woman she knew only as ‘Auntie’ to Lagos. She was in search of the proverbial good life.

It was a misadventure that has permanently altered her perception of the world. That was about a year ago. The Auntie, who had convinced her mother to allow Joy to come with her to Lagos with a promise that within a few weeks, she would be sending money home, ended up introducing her to prostitution in a most cruel way.

Two days after arriving Lagos, Joy was told it was time she started earning her pay. The little girl, who was barely 14 years old when she left home, was taken to a decrepit brothel in the backwoods of Oyemekun in Onipanu, where Auntie instructed that she must open her legs to men for a fee.

“It was a terrible experience for me,” she told Saturday Telegraph, adding, “The first man who came to me was hurtful and didn’t give me anything even after he forced his way. Left with no choice, I had to cope with the job because I had to survive. “I couldn’t even find my way back home, should I get anybody to lend me the transport fare,” Joy narrated her rather sad story in tears.

However, she told this reporter on Opebi Roundabout, a bustling commercial district that transforms into a red light zone at night, where she now ply her trade that she had to escape from the evil woman to fend for herself since she does not see the money she is suffering for. Together with another friend of her’s, also a little girl of about 14, Joy left the brothel to squat among other little souls of her age at Ojodu Berger area where they all moved to Opebi, Ikeja, at night for work.

It was one of such nights, according to her, that a night crawler of note, who goes by name Bubby to avoid being recognised, had met Joy and felt he could have a ‘quickie’ with her on the roadside. Bubby could not contemplate taking Joy home to avoid trouble because of his wife. He haggled with the little girl before a compromise was reached. N5,000 was agreed but Bubby insisted on ‘doing it’ in his car, a decision Joy did not accede to. “We can do it in a very comfortable place without much stress,” she assured Bubby. “Where are we going to do it?” Bubby enquired, suspecting it could be foul play to rob him off his money.

“Don’t worry, are you scared?” Joy assured him once more. They matched down, heading towards a popular hospital on Allen Avenue before the little girl motioned on him to divert into another one storey building, standing adjacent to the hospital. As they approached the gate, the security man, who seemed to be in the know of the transaction, opened the gate to allow them access. To Bubby’s surprise, the office complex had transformed into a brothel, where one can have quick sex for as low as N300.

The place, as if to confirm Joy’s assurance, was littered with mattresses of different sizes and durability, which made business of the day comfortable, after which Bubby paid the negotiated fees. After this encounter, Bubby, like others who patronise this class of prostitutes, does not need to go pricing those standing, but goes straight to the unofficial ‘brothel’, where the little ‘angels’ of different shades, shapes and colour ply their illicit trade. A further investigation showed that most of the corporate offices on Opebi and Allen Avenue are used in the same manner, serving as brothels at night, where child prostitutes hang out. But, this happening is not restricted to Opebi and Allen Avenue, as a painstaking investigation uncovered another spot at Ahmadu Bello Way in Victoria Island. The ‘abandoned’ liaison offices of the various state governments now serve as a make-shift for individuals hob-knobbing and needing ‘quickies’ at the Bar Beach at weekends. The security guards, who complained of not being paid regularly, sell beer and pepper soup at such times to, according to them, complement the activities going on there and augment their takings. Only a few people living in the neighbourhood could claim ignorance of what is happening in the environment. The girls, most of whom are junior secondary school students, sneak in with older men to have quick and casual sex. The men always had one thing on their minds; the conquest of their innocent female ‘preys’, while the girls thought of nothing else besides the opportunity to squeeze easy money from their male partners. Money and sex are two things that keep the places alive these days unlike before when chief executives of states held sway at the time the liaison offices served as executive guest houses. A severely depressed part of Oyingbo is also a thriving sex market, where child prostitutes are the wares. “Men hardly patronise brothels again as they prefer girls who hang around these offices. And security Agents do not raid this category of girls because of the unsuspecting channels they perform their act,” said one of the girls, who identified herself simply as Ekaette, from Akwa Ibom State.

The game takes a different shade in Ogba. There, many of the little ‘angels’ of the night ply their trade in the various restaurants and nightclubs dotting the neighbourhood. A popular hotel behind the Excellence Hotel usually bubbles with such girls at night. And, tired of waiting without finding a ‘big fish’, the girls would drift with the night to other parts of Ogba where they hoped their chances would be better. Blessing, whose base is Urban Nightclub, told Saturday Telegraph she could make N15,000 once she “chin gum” well on a good day and as little as N3,000 on a bad day. She spends part of this earnings on rent she shares with two of her friends. The fear of the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is not, however, enough to deter her. However, commercial sexual exploitation of children occurs in many other cities in Nigeria.

They are virtually everywhere; at street corners, behind residential homes, inside schools, in front of highbrow hotels, bars, shops, restaurants and other public places. They are the new female hustlers, h o debase womanhood without any qualms. Their slangs are “runs” or “hook ups”. The latter, which seemed to be more packaged, attracts the “big boys”. Conventional prostitutes who restrict themselves to brothels or isolated public places in the past are daily being threatened. Those doing “runs” and “hook ups” are mainly the younger student prostitutes within the age bracket of between 12 and 16.

They are swarming the streets like bees, ostensibly trying to bite their victims where it hurts. Some of them are from relatively comfortable homes and do not hustle out of need. They do this, sometimes, out of greed or just for the fun of it. Every evening, especially on weekends, there are other young girls, who shamelessly parade the major streets, hawking their bodies to any willing buyer. On Victoria Island streets like Adeola Hopewell, Akin Adesola and Ozumba Mbadiwe boast of a huge population of child whores engrossed in theatrical advertisement of their flesh. Clad in hot pants and brief tops that leave little for imagination, they bombard the eardrums with the pleasing mantra of “I have all the styles and I’m small but mighty in bed.” Going by the way the scarlet girls chant the refrain like bats of the night, one would think there is a honey depot in the area. They fall over one another to secure patronage. They plant their bags in the passenger’s seat, shouting, “na me first come,” the same way groundnut hawkers do in traffic jams. Sex has also become a fad among many students of higher institutions; the ‘jambites’, diploma and remedial students are not left out. Many of them also converge at nightfall at Akoka, a suburb of Yaba, where the University of Lagos (UNILAG) splendidly sprawls in its aquamarine ambiance. At such times when the skyline is black as the ace of spades, the atmosphere at the parking lot in front of Moremi Hall is always frenzied. State-of-art cars, some chauffeur-driven, others driven by cigar-smoking, cell-phone-clutching men, jostling for space.

Of course, there are run-off-the mill cars too. But, the kindred spirits of lust unites everyone. They are united in their mission to hunt for willing ‘baby’ partners to satisfy their urge. And being an academic community, the hunting is done with scholastic elegance. Unlike the conventional street whore, the girls prefer not to slap price tags on their services. “What do you mean by how much? Do I look like a prostitute?” she would snap at the man if he asked what charges were.

This, notwithstanding, she would not collect “chicken feed like a secondary school girl.” They prefer the hasty and brief visit to a suya spot by Mariere Hall in which case the man parts with between N4,000 and N5,000 after a steamy session on the back seat of his car. The deal could also be consummated in any of the secluded areas of the campus or the Lagoon front.

Child sex business equally enjoys a boom in the other campuses across the country where it also wears a veil like in the University of Lagos. Outside Nigeria, it is even more lamentable. Reports indicate that the largest group of prostitutes from sub-Saharan Africa is from Nigeria. According to a recent United States Department of State report, out of the 2, 500 minors engaged in full-time prostitution on the streets of Italy, 2, 300 are from Albania and Nigeria.

Italy has also become the prostitution capital of Nigerian prostitutes. It is said that two out of every four prostitutes seen in any Italian street are Nigerians. This unsavoury situation destroys not only Nigeria’s image as a nation but the future of those involved. Apart from Italy, Nigerian prostitutes have successfully invaded Spain, Germany, Belgium, Austria and the UK, according to reports. They also constitute, reports further said, the largest group of prostitutes in Norway.

The same report put the population of under aged Nigerian prostitutes in the Netherlands at over 400. However, the majority of these prostitutes are recruited through the human trafficking industry under the guise of being offered a juicy life opportunity abroad but forced into child prostitution by syndicates and paid agents.

Such kids forced into such unspeakable lifestyles are threatened not to tell the truth to their parents or may feel too ashamed to speak up in front of their parents. There is also the case of child labour, which typically exposes children to prostitution. The hired female children are sent out to hawk food items on the streets, motor parks, and mechanic garages thereby exposing them to rapes as well as sexual harassment. That is not all. Pimps or brothel owners deceive some parents by paying them money and assuring to enlist their children in their ‘domestic services,’ which later turns to be prostitution.

They do everything possible to retain these girls who earn money for them to maintain their lavish lifestyles. Most kids are also led into this act by their masters. Some of them could be anaesthetised to have fun with them and when eventually the woman of the house gets to know about the act, she will be thrown outside to continue the act with other men including the masters. As well, children of broken homes sleep wherever they see space to do so in the day, and go to nightclubs at night. Investigations have shown that ill treatment of children at home might make them take to the street in order to find solace.

The end result may be the hawking of their bodies to support themselves. But, high patronage of child prostitution by wealthy men has been discovered as a factor that has contributed and sustains child prostitution as some kids find it difficult to resist the temptation of huge sums of money they receive from these patrons. An Abuja-based human/gender rights activist lawyer, Udofia Akpan, blames the upsurge in child prostitution in Nigeria on what he calls diminishing morals as well as lack of parental guidance. “Girls as young as 12 have been tricked into the sex trade by traffickers, aunts, uncles and other close relatives. Sex trade deals with a commodity.

“So, firstly, we must target the buyers of this commodity. The prostituted child does not enter into the relationship by choice; she is lured and or forced into the trade. At that point it is a contractual arrangement in which the child is simply the commodity available for sale or hire, depending on the demand. “The child thereafter is probably given no more respect than a rental car or worse.

It turns a girl into an object and it’s a denial of that girl’s humanity,” Akpan said. As a counselor, psychologist and a mother, Dr. Celine Njoku, former assistant secretary general of the Counselling Association of Nigeria (CASSON), reckons that the prevailing scourge of child prostitution in the country has, to a great extent, been indirectly encouraged by the failure of the home front and the larger society to make young girls aware of some basic sexuality education. Yet, a medical doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed fear that many of the kid harlots may be living with deadly Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) without knowing it.

“The fast growing open spots may be turning into a thing of sorrow for some families as lifestyles of these little girls are daily being endangered. These life-threatening diseases are also competing as they constantly threaten the patrons too,” the doctor remarked. Some call it the oldest profession on earth. Others consider it the scourge of womanhood. But, evidence available indicates that child prostitution is fast becoming a way of life for many. Not even the fear of the dreaded HIV/AIDS pandemic has forced a reduction in the number of young girls to take this old vocation as their means of livelihood.

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