Maggie* is only 13 but her parents expect her to raise at least K3 000 (about $7) a night through prostitution.
She charges her clients a maximum of K500 ($1.1), which means she is supposed to service six men in a day to achieve her target.
“But not all the clients can pay this amount. At times, I’m forced to take as less as K300 so that I don’t lose out completely,” narrated Maggie.
Maggie, who was dressed in skimpy outfit, claimed that it has not been “hard for me to achieve this target because the majority of the sex-starved men prefer us to old women”.
“Unlike old prostitutes, we give clients a chance to have sex without a condom as long as they pay more than our asking charge,” she explained.
Maggie is only one of the many teenage girls in Salima who are forced into prostitution by poverty-stricken parents to raise money for basic essentials for their families, a Weekend Nation investigation has established.
— Child prostitution–
This reporter spent three days observing life at Salima Boma and confirmed how child prostitution is thriving in full view of law enforcement agents.
Every day, scores of scantily dressed underage girls prowl footpaths leading to watering-holes and shebeens in search of customers.
Others walk about while carrying winnowing baskets, apparently, to give an impression that they are merely selling some edibles.
Edith Chigona, 15, fell into the trap last year after her uncle, who brought her from Thyolo, could not provide for the family and forced her to join the sex trade.
Said Edith: “Usually, he would ask me: ‘How are we going to survive when you are doing nothing? Can’t you see how your friends are assisting their parents?’”
Barely four months into her new profession, however, she found herself pregnant by an unknown client and this strained her relationship with her uncle since he expected her to make money for the family and not babies.
He, however, allowed her to live with him until she gave birth to a baby girl.
“His behaviour forced me to move out of his house. I noted that he only loved me when I brought him money to feed his family. I’m now relieved because I’m living alone with my child. I no longer have targets set for me as it used to be,” said Edith.
She, however, refused to take this journalist to her uncle, saying: “I don’t want to see him. He’s a heartless, I wouldn’t be a prostitute if it weren’t for him.”
Another 15-year-old girl—who identified herself as Maria—said she dropped out of school in 2013 to concentrate on the trade and she has no intention of quitting.
“In fact, I no longer live with my parents who forced me to this business. I left them when I saw that I could ably provide for myself,” she stated.
John Witness, who lives at Sangu residential area but operates a taxi at Salima Bus Depot, disclosed that most girls beat their targets and take the surplus as their pocket money.
— Cheap sex services–
Witness claims some of his neighbours’ children are into prostitution and he has observed that the majority of the men go for the teens because they offer cheap services and are flexible when a client asks for unprotected sex.
“It’s said old prostitutes are very strict on use of condoms to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and Aids. On the other hand, teens easily give in to unprotected sex, especially where a client is ready to pay more,” Witness said.
A bartender at one of the Kamuzu Road junction bars, who declined to be named, said when the rest of the town goes to sleep, the girls are awake satisfying the lust of men who come to Salima to do businesses or attend workshops and seminars.
One parent who was identified to have pushed his daughter towards prostitution, Jairus Christopher, denied to have influenced his 14-year-old daughter’s choice of career.
Christopher said he only asked her to follow what her friends were doing by contributing to the welfare of their families.
“I simply suggested she should find something to do because the size of the family was becoming too huge for me alone to manage. At the time, I was working for a security company, which paid me less than K10 000. This was too little to sustain a family of seven [five children and two parents],” he said.
Salima third grade magistrate Jacob Mwinama said what Christopher did contravenes Section 147a (1) (b) of the Penal Code, which states that any person who procures, encourages, induces, or otherwise purposely causes another person to become or remain a common prostitute is guilty of an offence whose maximum sentence is 14 years.
Mwinama said these parents would not be walking freely today if law enforcers had arrested them for encouraging and inducing their daughters to join prostitution.
“I don’t remember ever hearing or reading that Salima Magistrate’s Court received and handled a case involving a parent who induced his or her daughter to join prostitution.
“You could, therefore, not be faulted to blame law enforcers for failing to assume their role in dealing with this problem,” said Mwinama.
Officer-in-charge for Salima Police Station, James Bwela, said “so far, no one has complained to them”.
Bwela also disclosed that it was difficult for his officers to effect arrests on clients and suppliers of teen prostitutes and/or child sex because the trade is carried out in private.
“I’m fully aware of this trade. However, no one has approached us for intervention. This matter is merely brought to me at our community policing forums and it’s difficult to act when there’s no complaint,” he narrated.
Asked why his office could not take action when the law empowers them to do so even where there is no complaint from parents, Bwela responded: “I think it was sheer negligence on our part. We should accept we failed to give the matter an intervention it deserves. But we may now take action following your findings and alert.”
He said police would soon start conducting patrols and clean-ups to rid the watering-holes and shebeens of minor prostitutes.
Group Village Head Mgawachifu of Traditional Authority Salima said he was aware that some poor families in his area have turned their daughters into money-making machines.
Mgawachifu, however, stated that he could not do anything because he was not sure if that was within his jurisdiction.
“I’ll need to consult if I have authority over how parents raise their children. Otherwise, the practice has really been there for sometime now,” he said.
— Lack of resources–
Salima assistant district social welfare officer, Alex Makatha, said his office is failing to invoke the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act due to lack of resources.
The Act empowers child protection workers to arrest anyone who induces teen girls to venture into prostitution and charge them with conspiracy, allowing underage girls to trade in prostitution, deceitful inducement of persons and offering of underage girls for prostitution.
He explained: “In the meantime, we’re simply approaching organisations that work in the child rights and protection sector for a possible working relationship to deal with the problem.
We’re equally concerned that children as young as 13 should be engaging in this trade.”
Usaid-funded Health Policy Project (HPP) programme adviser responsible for population and family planning, Laston Mteka-Banda, attributed the new trend in prostitution to overpopulation which is straining the social and economic resources of most families the world over.
Mteka-Banda said there is need for government and leaders of faith communities to join hands in sensitising couples to the need to have smaller sizes of families, which they can easily manage.
“Our fear is that things could get even worse if measures are not taken to control childbirths in the country,” he warned.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, described the role of parents in encouraging the sex trade in Salima as “an evil that should not be allowed in a society.”
She said such parents need to be arrested for violating the rights of their children.
“I wish to ask chiefs to assist child protection workers and law enforcers in tracing these parents so that they can be arrested and account for their actions,” urged Kaliati.
On the issue of resources, Kaliati blamed her officers for lack of dedication to work.
“Resources are not an issue, but the failure by social welfare officers to dedicate to work. They must admit their failure and not blame it on resources,” charged Kaliati.
According to 2011 statistics compiled by, Salima has an HIV prevalence rate of nine percent among the adult population.