A visit to a brothel in Ndirande Township on Wednesday revealed a level of control by a pimp over prostituted women.
During interviews, the women refused to admit they were being exploited by the owner, insisting he only used them to attract customers to his bar and that all sex proceeds belong to individual women.
But it was all clear to the interviewers— that included journalists and members of Parliament (MPs)— that the reality on the ground was different, with the women changing their stories time and again.
Two small babies in different rooms, constricted spaces for beds or mats housing over 20 women and appalling state of the buildings that looked to have been built in a hurry and with cheap materials spoke volumes about their undignified treatment and poor conditions of living.
This was during a tour of the brothel organised by People Serving Girls at Risk (PSGR) for journalists and MPs to appreciate the horrors women go through as prostituted persons.
And with scripted stories, it was clear that the level of control by the pimp superseded the exit strategy by PSGR which include rehabilitation, reintegration, skills impartation for long term financial alternative, counseling and housing.
Said one girl: “I came to Blantyre from Thyolo on the promise of a job a house maid. But the abuse I met at the hands of my employer became unbearable with time. I was deprived of food, paid half of my wages at the end of the month among many atrocities. Eventually I left and became stranded. A friend directed me this place where I have been for three months selling sex. I am grateful to the owner for taking me in free of charge while I find my bearings.”
Another woman said the housing conditions at the brothel was the least of her problems because her focus was on fending for her extended family members in her village, including two children.
She, however, claims to be traumatized by the many abuse at the hands of her clients, one of which rings loudest; she was asked to lick a worm infested wound instead of having sex.
But the commonest of the women’s grievances were the lack of payment by some men and physical assault.
The amount paid per session differed with each girl interviewed, ranging from K1 000 to K3 000 per session,. On average, a woman makes about K4 000 a day or K10 000 on a good day upon sleeping with 10 men.
Coalition for the Abolition Prostitution (CAP) International executive director Jonathan Machler said prostitution is a form of violence, a volation of human rights, human dignity and an exploitation of inequalities because many prostituted persons are subjected to extreme torture presented as sexual acts.
His organisation, based in France among other things empowers its members to support victims of prostitution and advocates for the adaptation of domestic legislation and international standards to eliminate sexual exploitation of women and girls, deliver effective protection, support and exit options to prostituted persons and victims of trafficking.
The coalition includes 35 grassroots and survivors-led organisations in 28 countries
Machler said pimps in Malawi present themselves as bar tenders thereby averting justice since the law does not empower police to arrest them in that capacity.
“We do not believe in sex work, but nothing will improve as long as the legal situation as it it. As long as pimping is decriminalized, the war is futile. In other countries, the visit would have led to the arrest of the pimp in Ndirande, but he got away with it here because of the legal situation,” he said
PSGR executive director Caleb Ng’ombo— whose organisation is a Cap member—said they take government to account on its commitment to domestic, regional and international legislation on protecting women from prostitution.
“We try to strike a balance in this issue because prostitution is still a sensitive matter. We do not to be confrontational, but work with the police, social welfare and Parliamentarians to identify gaps in our legislation,” he said.
The tour was also attended by second deputy speaker of Parliament Aisha Mambo, leader of UDF in Parliament Ned Phoya, MP for Balaka Central-West Chifundo Makande and Deputy Minister of Local Government Owen Chomanika.