Ugandans traffic teenage Rwandan girls for sex
Some lodge owners in Uganda, working through local contacts in Kigali, are involved in the practice of luring orphaned teenage girls, many of them Rwandans, into prostitution in Kampala.
The Rwanda Focus, working undercover, has unearthed a racket involving rich lodge and bar owners who lure girls between 16 and 20 to the booming sex trade in Kampala and other major towns where young Rwandan girls are on high demand.
Both Rwanda and Uganda border authorities we talked to say they have witnessed unusually big numbers of young women crossing to Uganda, especially during weekends, claiming they are going to visit relatives.
Police sources said that they are aware of occasional mass movement of teenage girls to Uganda, but had not yet penetrated the racked.
Most of the girls are orphans or those who have dropped out of school due to early pregnancy. They are lured with promises of jobs in Kampala only to end up in bars and brothels.
How it happens
It all starts with Kampala lodges and bar owners who use girls as bait for male customers. For the lodges specifically, the girls are a sure way of maintaining daily clients in the rooms.
The businessmen have contacts who know their way around Rwanda. These are mostly prostitutes who have been in the business longer.
This reporter, posing as a brothel owner from Hoima, a town in western Uganda, managed to talk to Oliver (all the names in this story have been changed at the request of the interviewees Editor), a Rwandan sex worker who has been in the business for four years.
She said that she would immediately find at least 10 girls from Rwamagana as long as I covered the entire cost of transport for her and myself, and upkeep while she scouts for the girls. Other costs include processing travel documents, as well as transport and meals for the girls until they reached their destination.
The entire budget, according to Oliver would require about Frw 200,000 broken down as follows: her transport and mine from Kampala to Kigali and back Frw 40,000; transport for ten girls Frw 70,000; travel documents Frw 60, 000 and miscellaneous costs Frw 30,000.
The girls are coached to declare at the border post that they are going to visit their relatives in Uganda because they are usually too young to be allowed to go looking for jobs. The parents or guardians for their part receive assurances that the girls are going to do decent work.
When these girls arrive in Kampala, they end up in several ‘red zones’ infamous for prostitution. These include Nakulabye, Bwaise, Kabalagala, Namirembe and other areas.
Hannyz Discotheque is one such place located along what people here quietly call ‘Nyaru Street’ (the term ‘Nyaru’ is an epithet for ‘Rwandan’) in the ‘red zone’ area of Namirembe just a few blocks from the Jaguar Bus terminal.
Inside Hannyz Discotheque and bar, revelers watch karaoke dancers and striptease dance from Monday to Sunday. It is here that the girls in this particular zone pick their clients. They enter the club for free to help lure men inside and to avoid the streets where police can arrest them.
There are many girls in here, all speaking Kinyarwanda, only switching to Luganda or any other languages when haggling with a client.
Hannyz also operates around 12 rooms at the back where the girls do their business. A beer here goes for 3,000 Ugandan shillings (Frw 750), which is cheaper compared to most bars in the city because the idea is to encourage men to drink a lot, intoxication making it easier for the girls to sell themselves to them.
Each girl rents a room where she operates, and they are not allowed to go to a client’s place because this is not only a loss to the lodge, but could also pose serious safety problems to the girls. “Some clients use the girl and refuse to pay. Some clients are armed or could be soldiers… so we don’t allow the girls to go out because they may put everyone involved in danger,” said a guard.
At “P” Guest House (we only used the initial, not the full name, ed.), there are 14 rooms, 12 of which are actually occupied by ‘resident prostitutes.’ The cheapest room is 30,000 shillings and each girl has to pay this money on a daily basis.
As a form of making more money, the girls prefer “short” transactions which normally last between 30 and 45 minutes for a minimum of 25,000 shillings.
“On a good night, a girl may bring in five clients, which translates to 125,000 shillings”, said Ian, the night receptionist at the guest house.
It’s the prospect of making big money that is used to lure young Rwandan jobless, school dropout girls to jump on the bandwagon… the money sounds too good to resist. “Most of them say life is too hard back home as it’s not easy to find a good job,” says Shiffah, another staffer at the guest house.
But even those with decent day jobs in Kampala also join the sex business at night to earn a quick buck. Shiffah, told me of one such girl: “She has a job in the restaurant and earns 5,000 shillings a day, gets free meals and accommodation from her boss but she sneaks to the streets at night.”
Jennifer is one of only two prostitutes who accepted to talk to The Rwanda Focus. She says that after paying her accommodation and security fee, she’s able to make a big enough profit to pay for her other needs and even send some money back home.
Whereas most of the girls on the streets dropped out of school due to early pregnancy and other reasons, there are also mothers who have actually run away from their husbands. At “P” Guest House for example, there was one with a child of around two years. Others, I was told, actually have kids in schools around Kampala.
Obviously, the job is not without risk. In the first place, there is the danger of the girls contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, as some men insist on unprotected sex. And even when they don’t propose it, unprotected sex fetches a better price and some girls can’t resist the chance to make more money.
In addition, while prostitution is practiced openly in Uganda, it is in fact illegal. As a result, the girls are exposed to police harassment.
For instance, one evening at Hannyz we saw a police patrol car arrived at high speed to stop just outside the entrance. The handful of girls who were haggling with their clients scattered to the neighboring bars, but one of them was unlucky – a police officer managed to grab her hand, dragged her into the van and dumped her in the back before speeding away to an unknown destination.
My guide Derrick told me that such scenarios are not uncommon, and there are usually two possible outcomes. “Either the girls pay a bribe to the police officers to release them or they offer to sleep with them without pay in return for freedom,” said Derrick.
Indeed the girl returned some time later with her excited colleagues congratulating her with drinks as she told them of her ordeal. It was clear she had reached a deal with her captors, for she lacked any signs of physical harm.
But in cases where the police don’t release the girls immediately, the role of the security fee comes in handy as the girls’ managers will use bribes to secure their release, most of the time successfully.
“This is a business and the police are made to know it,” Derrick said. “If they get a good fee, they let you stay in action.”