It is Wednesday night and not yet 7pm at a pub, but Ireen (not her real name) has already serviced five sex-starved men.
Ireen, 14, is a resident commercial sex worker at the pub, which is located at Area 36’s Phwetekere Market.
She says her charges range from K1 000 ($2) for ‘short time’ to K2 500 ($4) if a client wants a ‘whole night or full-time’ service.
“I’m a tried and tested sex worker. I offer services that clients do not regret spending their money on,” she says when asked what sort of business she was doing at the bar at that odd hour.
The conversation is temporarily interrupted as two young and muscular men engage in a fight a few metres away.
It is later understood that Ireen is the bone of contention.
“Amwene,mwakhala mkuwendelera mkaziwangayu.Lero ndakupatsani mwayi mfunsireni tione ngati angakuloreni! [Friend, you’ve been making advances on my girl. I’m giving you a chance to propose to her and let us see if she will accept you],” the other boy, light in complexion and playing pool, declares.
With the stick [for playing pool], he draws closer to where the other person is standing while sipping his beer.
The accused man—who refutes the allegation—stands unmoved and continues to do justice to his beer.
In company of two other men, he leaves the pub soon after finishing his beer.
In no time, a man who is in charge of prostitutes and arranges customers for them approaches the reporter for possible business with Ireen.
But the reporter takes a different approach, which seems to lead the pimp into suspecting that he [the reporter] is up to something else beyond ‘business’.
“Ano simalo ochezera. Ano ndi malo a bizimesi man! Ngati mukufuna mkazi ingotilipirani K700 ya room ndipo muthakutenga amene mungakonde pa atsikanawa akakuthandizeni. [This is a business place. Just pay us K700 for the room and choose any of the girls you want],” he says.
The reporter takes a seat under a gazebo within the pub premises and enjoys his beer. He beckons Ireen to follow him for further conversation.
Here, the girl reveals she and two other teenagers, ended up in the hands of the pimps at the pub after some men lured them with jobs at a restaurant.
Ireen says they are from different districts in Malawi and have varying levels of education.
Some of them have basic education and dropped out of school due to various reasons, but one has not attended school at all.
During the day, they roam the streets waiting for the night to fall so they can return to their base.
Maria Joseph [not her real name], who is carrying a baby on her back and looking the untidiest of them all, tells a heart-rending story.
At 16, she says she does not know the man who impregnated her because she has slept with many men without protection.
“Most of our clients prefer unprotected sex. We accept because it means more money for us,” explains Maria as she sits down to breastfeed the child.
She says she has no permanent place to call home except the pub.
Both Ireen and Maria say they have been at the pub for about two years, but refuse to mention their districts of origin.
However, they say that life is not rosy for them.
“We experience sexual abuse in the course of our business. Some people, especially drunks and callboys, sometimes rape us without any pay. Nobody cares!” Ireen explains.
It is not girls only that are sexually abused. Christopher of Mchesi in Lilongwe can attest to how boys are forced into sex with older women.
He says the women would usually visit the streets looking for young boys to sleep with at a fee.
“They come in their cars and fetch us street boys. They offer good money and it’s irresistible for us poor boys,” he explains.
Christopher challenges that most boys roaming around the market streets have been sexually abused.
He says the situation is worse when you are in a group since there is a high likelihood of sexual, physical and substance abuse.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, says there are many children who are suffering abuses both in homes as well as outside.
According to Kaliati, there is more that children on the street are going through than meets the eye.
However, the minister says efforts by government and the civil society to rescue these children have not yielded much.
She says these children tend to suffer from feelings of rejection and insecurity that may drive them out in search of a place where they may be better accepted and loved—bars or streets.
“This makes most of them less cooperative when we offer to help them out of prostitution or street life. They return to street life or prostitution because they are used to such a life,” she explains.
Kaliati laments that her ministry’s efforts to engage police in tracking them down has also failed to bear fruits.
Psychosocial analyst Francisco Zuze of Care International says there is nothing strange about teenage prostitutes and street children failing to integrate into a normal society.
According to Zuze, the major contributing factor for this is fear of suffering shame or humiliation among their peers.
“This, therefore, requires collaborative efforts to persuade them to leave the streets or bars. Communities, too, need to start accommodating them and stop regarding them as outcasts,” he implores.
As the reporter stands up to take leave of the pub after downing two drinks, Ireen and Maria ask: “Ndiye basi mwangotisiyasiya opanda koti tigulireti mandasi mawa? [Won’t you give us something for a snack tomorrow?