Poverty Driving Children Into Prostitution
In the West African nation of Ghana poverty is driving a growing number of children onto the streets to live. Without money or a job most of those children are eventually forced into prostitution. That influx of desperate children is earning Ghana a reputation on paedophile websites as a safe destination for child sex. Child protection groups worry that the country could become the next Thailand. Prue Clarke reports from Ghana's capital, Accra. (sound of children chanting in response to a teacher) PRUE CLARKE: Street kids learn maths at a shelter. Growing poverty has tripled the number of children living on the streets here to 20,000 in the last decade. This class is one aid group's attempt to give them a shot at a different life. (sound of children chanting in response to a teacher) When I visited this class last month, I was puzzled to find no girls. That's because of the job they do, the teacher told me. They're all asleep now. They're prostitutes. (sound of nightclub music) This is where I find the girls. It's a seedy bar in Accra's red-light district. But no one's here for the beer. What's on tap is young girls.
Men crowd the bar while a dozen girls dance in tight clothes and bright make up. The men look them up and down, then choose one and lead her to the back of the bar. (sound of nightclub music) Out the back here the pair joins one of the lines behind two dirty urinals. For a few minutes sex in there the girl gets about $5, and I'm told $1 of that goes to the house. (sound of Ama speaking) Fifteen-year-old Ama is one of the girls. Her father left their impoverished village when Ama's mother died in childbirth. Her grandmother couldn't support herself, let alone Ama and her three siblings. (sound of Ama speaking) Ama says a friend told her to come to Accra where she was a storekeeper earning $12 a month. Ama had never seen so much money, so she followed the friend to Accra and she brought her here. Ama sends money to her grandmother and tells her she walks in the store. Ama says she makes money, but there are many wicked people. Sometimes if you go with a man, they won't bring you back. A friend of Ama's went with a man two weeks ago, and Ama hasn't see her since. Ama doesn't know whether her friend is alive or dead. (sound of nightclub music) Ama's story is typical. Children are driven from home by the effects of poverty. With no education, no money and no protection from violence, almost all of Ghana's street girls, and a growing number of boys, are left no choice but to sell themselves. (sound of street bustle) The homeland of Kofi Annan, Ghana has become West Africa's most stable democracy in the last decade. But that progress has had an unintended consequence here on the streets. Political stability, large numbers of street kids, corruptible police and a low HIV/AIDS infection rate make an alluring mix for paedophiles.
Child sex websites are already touting Ghana as a safe sex tourism destination. In 1998, Victorian Harry Ernst Ruppert became one of a handful of foreigners convicted of child sex related crimes in the country, in his case, of trying to establish a sex ring. UNICEF's Beatrice Duncan says she's been frustrated by government and international failure even to monitor the problem. BEATRICE DUNCAN: What we do know is that it exists, and probably on a large scale. If you have a sore on your foot and you don't nurse it, it will grow. So this is a sore which we must nip in the bud. (sound of children playing) PRUE CLARKE: One consequence of the child sex trade is already too apparent. (sound of baby) An estimated 6,000 babies live on the streets of Accra. The lucky ones come here, to a day care centre run by aid agencies. They get a meal and a nap, but at night they're back on the streets with their mothers. There they'll fight malaria, malnutrition, abuse and violence. Most will not survive. (sound of baby crying) The centre's clinic takes in street girls in their last months of pregnancy.
The centre's deputy chief is Irene Engman (phonetic) IRENE ENGMAN: Most of them who come here have not gone through antenatal care, they've never been to the hospital at all. Almost all of them have malaria. Most of them also end up in the Nikkoo (phonetic), it's a place for children who are born with deformities or who are born pre-term and all that. (sound of child coughing) PRUE CLARKE: This year, four of the 10 babies born at the clinic have died. Last year, it lost them all. Relief agencies have made only a very small dent in street kid numbers here and Government says it can do little to help. It says street kids are just another side effect of poverty and another argument for debt relief and a redressing of unfair international trade rules. (sound of street bustle) Meanwhile, back on the streets Ghana's future is being traded away. I'm Prue Clarke in Accra for PM. This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.