Within Kingston and St. Andrew's fancy houses and hotels, and outside along those daytime busy streets, twilight hides a sombre reality: scores of boys below the age of 19 years, frolicking with men two or three times their age in exchange for money.
These young boys, according to contact investigators employed by the Ministry of Health and social workers are becoming a major fixture in the now lucrative sex industry of Jamaica. Many are selling themselves to older, 'big men' for money to pay school fees, buy books, clothes and shoes of the latest fashion. So concerned are these workers that they fear the situation may get out of hand if something is not done soon to prevent more boys from joining.
Penelope Campbell, who along with Ann-Marie Campbell carried out research among sex workers last year, noted that "the need for money forces many young boys from the ghettos to become involved in the sex trade. These are usually high-risk as not much precaution is taken in these transactions."Boys becoming a major fixture in sex industry
The Ministry of Health and social workers say scores of little boys are becoming a major fixture in the now lucrative sex industry of Jamaica.
"When we see young boys engaged in this sort of relationship, it is a power thing. We find that the young men may not be able to negotiate for safer sex - exposing themselves to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhoea, syphilis and warts," senior medical officer with the STI/HIV Prevention Programme, Dr. Yitades Gebre said.
He, however, explained that this activity mainly takes place in the Kingston and Montego Bay area, but should not be seen as sex workers in the strict sense. According to him, sex workers are persons whose main occupation is transactional sex.
But regardless of whether they are sex workers or not, health workers believe the activities of the boys can cause serious long-term health problems, apart from STIs. Nurse Pearline Jamieson explained that like young girls who become sexually active early, boys having anal sex at such tender age run the risk of damaging their tender organs.
Unlike the vagina which has stratified lining, the rectum is only one cell thick and thus less resilient. This makes the rectum inherently more susceptible to infections, including HIV, hepatitis and other viral infections that according to nurse Pearson can lead to anal cancer.
"The anal cavity was not built for the sort of elasticity that can facilitate penile sex," Dr. Gebre said. He said while this may cause bruises and tears if the cavity is not well-lubricated, there is no proof that it can lead to cancer.
Still, fear is being expressed that the muscles of the anus can be damaged leading to incontinence.
"Many are afraid to stop it - some say they are born this way and some are being programmed. We try to counsel them, but it all boils down to money," Nurse Holly Alvaranga of the Glen Vincent Clinic said.
According to her, many of the parents of these boys are overseas and they live with grandparents. In other instances, she notes, the mothers don't seem to care. She also explained that the behaviour of the boys are driven more by money and not necessarily because they have homosexual inclinations as they do not go out with each other.
Nurse Jamieson said only two weeks ago, one of the boys was tested positive for HIV.
"This is the stage where many boys begin to develop and by 16 or 18 years old they will start clinging to a female and sex then comes into play because he doesn't want people to think he is a homosexual."
The boys who do go to the clinics are counselled and at Glen Vincent, Maxfield Park, the Comprehensive Clinic and Windward Road clinic, this counselling also involves a Minister of Religion and nutritionist. "We can't force them to change - we point out the dangers - the good - but the individual has to decide to change," Nurse Alvaranga said.