Fri | Jul 30, 2021

Street children making risky sexual transactions, study finds

Published:Friday | June 25, 2021 | 12:13 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

A fraction of the children on Jamaica’s streets are involved in risky sexual practices as they seek to ‘hustle’ in response to poverty, parental neglect, perceptions of parental responsibility, and other factors.

The Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) has documented this prevalence in its Study of Children Living and Working on the Streets in Jamaica report, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

It is estimated that between 1,140 and 2,000 children live and/or work on the streets islandwide.

The study’s aim was to determine the factors that predispose children to living and working on the streets and to identify gaps in the provision of care and social-protection services that impede an effective response to addressing street children.

It was conducted across nine parishes, with 373 respondents.

The common daytime activities children engage in include selling snacks, ground provisions, and newspapers; wiping windshields; and washing cars, while a smaller proportion hustles in nightclubs and at parties.

In Kingston, St Andrew, and St James, children also live off the dump by selling scrap metal and copper.

The CPFSA reasoned that the interview findings are consistent with other reports that indicate that children on the streets engage in risky sexual practices.

It added that conversations with boys in one community confirm that men also venture in to have sex with some of their peers and also arrange to meet them on the outskirts of the community.

“There were other boys across the parishes who maintained that they are involved in two or three sexual relationships in order to ensure that someone is there if the other leaves. Finally, groups of boys ply the streets of New Kingston at particular periods in the night and early morning. They regularly – and aggressively – solicit boys and men on the streets. According to commentators, condoms are regularly found in some of the favoured spots,” the report detailed.

In one of the focus group sessions held on May 20, 2019, children were asked to explain the different ways in which they hustle, particularly the less visible forms.

“Miss, sometimes from you reach 13, parents don’t business with you. Many children have stopped working on the streets and are now selling their vaginas. That’s why you don’t see them on the major roads,” a response in the report read.

Another focus group participant said: “Some of us go by the stoplights and beg. Each day, we make between $500 and $600. Not all of us are involved in prostitution. We go to school sometimes.”

The report indicated that children are involved in prostitution, particularly in Kingston and St Andrew, St James, St Ann, St Mary, and Westmoreland.

Researchers noted a pattern of inter-generational prostitution in a community where prostitution is common among older women as well as children as young as 10 years.

“Here, prostitution is not frowned upon but regarded as a rational response to hard times,” the report said, adding that most of the older women started the practice in their teen years.

It was concluded that in those Corporate Area communities, prostitution appeared to be a learnt or observed behaviour.

The researchers pointed out that there was a possibility that all children had not been forthright about their involvement in sexual activities.

The study revealed that 22 children had been paid to have sex with an older woman, 10 had been paid to have sex with an older man, 28 had had sex with someone of their age group, and seven with someone younger.