Teens hit the streets to sell sex for survival
Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter
Teenage prostitutes are in high demand on the streets of the Corporate Area, and it appears that more and more children are choosing this illegal industry to survive while adults, mainly well-to-do males, are paying high prices for younger flesh in breach of the law.
Last week, our news team sat with two prostitutes, both under age 18, but each has been in the sex trade for some three years.
Toni Brown andMarsha James are from different but similar social backgrounds.
Toni is one of the thousands of boys who grew up in one of the many tough inner-city communities in Kingston, while Marsha grew up in abject poverty in rural Jamaica.
Today, they share a similar story: both have had to ditch the place they called home and try to earn enough to survive by selling sexual favours on the streets of the Corporate Area.
Threat of violence
For Toni, it was the threat of physical harm that forced him, then 13 years old, to flee his house.
"I grew up in the garrison with three brothers and three sisters who suspected that I had homosexual tendencies and they had no problem with it.
"But certain things you know the people in the community nah go really uphold with, so they decided that I had to leave. I didn't really have any choice," said Toni.
Marsha did not face the threat of physical harm, but her situation was dire nonetheless. At the age of 14, chronic needs pushed her out of the family house into the clutches of prostitution.
"I started early because my mother is very poor, she couldn't afford food," said Marsha, who is now a mother herself to an 18-month-old girl whose father is unknown.
"It did rough and tough, so mi couldn't even go to school and mi couldn't get any money and so forth. Sometimes mi had to walk and a beg all little toothpaste fi brush teeth, so mi had to end up on di road," said Marsha.
Despite entering the illegal sex industry while still minors, Toni and Marsha had no problems attracting clients.
"Nobody nuh watch the age. Dem just want know say you shape nice and look nice," declared Toni, who is transgender and prefers to be referred to as 'she', particularly when he is clad in his female attire.
He said from early, his clientele included persons from all sectors of society who paid no attention to the fact that they were committing carnal abuse by having sex with a minor.
"You have all policeman come. One policeman come inna the government car, and when you a drive inna it him tell you fi drop back the seat. You have all different type a man, if you list dem mi will name dem," added Toni.
Marsha endorsed Toni's claim, as she also made mention of a client list which includes some of society's elite.
"A mostly rich man inna dem big vehicle come buy sex, because remember say the little man dem who deh pon di road dem no have no work or nutten, so dem no have no money, unless a thief dem a go thief," declared Marsha.
That is not news to persons in local children-protection agencies, who have long expressed concern that Jamaica's youngsters are being pushed into prostitution with well-to-do adults as their main clients.
Exploitation of children
Last week, UNICEF Jamaica's Adolescent Health and Empowerment Programme specialist, Novia Condell-Gibson, noted that the act of adults buying sex from minors is repugnant.
"The situation where a child feels like they need to rely on sex in order to live is untenable," asserted Condell-Gibson.
"It is not to happen, because the fact is if a child is involved in the sex trade it is really the exploitation of the child, and it is criminal and it is not to be tolerated in society.
"The protection of children from sexual exploitation must come up as a greater priority within our society," said Condell-Gibson.
But the reality is that too many of our children are left to their own devices and forced to fend for themselves.
Toni says among the 20 to 30 homosexual prostitutes he moves with least four are only 17 years old, with him being the youngest at 16.
Marsha, too, says her two main colleagues in the sex trade are 16 and 19 years old.
Although still a child who should be cared for and protected, Toni has been totally cut off from his father and three brothers.
"Me and me old man (father) and me male family members nuh keep no form a relationship, just my three sisters and mi mother," said Toni.
"It was really difficult but I never had any choice. My mother used to feel a way, because the people dem inna the yard used to trouble wi and say 'yu have a b-man son, b-man blood run inna you'. Some of the times she not even want to go out a road, because she nuh wan hear it," added Toni.
He said Sundays are particularly painful now that he is not at home.
"Like on a Sunday mi know say mi mother would cook and call everybody fi food. Most Sundays now when mi nuh have any money mi haffii wait on mi friends dem fi eat, so mi kinda miss dah special time deh."
Toni, along with his friends, lives wherever he can find rest in the Corporate Area, and also misses other comforts of home, such as a bed to sleep in at nights.
"Wi go look wi cardboard from after six in the evening before wi ready fi go work, so as wi dun work wi just wash off the make-up and go lay down," said Toni.
"When it rain it kind a little struggling, so wi haffi hang out under one bus stop until it done."
Went to live with sister
When Marsha relocated from rural Jamaica, she was hoping that her older sister, who lived in Spanish Town, St Catherine, would have been able help her establish a decent life for herself, but things did not go according to plan.
"My sister had kids to send to school and other difficulties to deal with, so the poverty was still standing on me same way," stated Marsha.
"My sister live with her man, but she do sex work same way. I have three sisters and three brothers, mi mother give away some a dem to some nurse people who can take care of them," added Marsha with the pain evident in her voice.
That absence of family support is a significant factor in the children's life and their choice of prostitution. Condell-Gibson told The Sunday Gleaner that it is not only the vulnerable children who are in need of support, but also the families from which they come.
"The truth is that there is the situation in Jamaica where there is a high level of stigma around both sex workers and being gay, so the fact is that families who have to contend with such a situation clearly also need support," said Condell-Gibson said.
"So it's not so much about penalising families - certainly not in the first instance - it is what is the level of support for families who are dealing with tough situations.
"What is the level of support not only from a government standpoint, but within a community that people can be given the space that they need to care for their children regardless of whether or not the child is displaying or developing in the way you necessarily want."
Names changed on request