For her, the journey was tough with halfway of rough and potholed road. But she didn’t feel tired, throughout the way she was thinking of her new prosperous life in Mtwara town.
“My thoughts were crowded with imaginations of a bright and golden future,” says 19-year-old Mwajuma Mponda (not her real name) as she began explaining on her long journey to a sexual slave and not to a bright and golden future.
“A day before I left for Mtwara I could not sleep well as I thought how my aunt was going to welcome me and start my new job as a housemaid,” said the young Mwajuma in a recent interview with The Guardian.
Mwajuma was picked by her aunt when she was 15-year-old to stay with her as a housemaid, taking care of a little baby and doing other house chores.
“I decided to leave my mother to escape poverty, and go look for green pastures in Mtwara town. My life with my mother was pathetic. We usually had a single meal with indecent clothing and poor shelter,” says the girl.
She says her dream was to improve their living standard although she had failed in her primary school examinations in 2012. “I steeled up courage and told myself that school examinations were quite different to life examinations,” she explains wearing a weak smile, a smile of despair.
“As I was thinking of how to escape from this pathetic life, a beautiful woman visited our home in April 2013 and she introduced herself as my aunt and asked me to accompany her to Mtwara,” says Mwajuma.
She reveals that her mother had no objection. They agreed to travel the next day. Mwajuma said goodbye to her colleagues in the village, telling them she was going to Mtwara “to enjoy green pastures.”
“At around midnight, my mother woke me up and told me to be a role model, work hard and respect everyone I came across. My mother said I should remember that my father left us and I should not forget where I belong to,” she says.
Mwajuma added her mother further told her that that since God had given her that golden chance she should not abuse it.
She says she assured her mother that she would not have misused that chance because such opportunities did not come twice.
She explains that the next day at around 7.30pm Mwajuma and her aunt arrived at their final destination where they were accorded a warm welcome from other family members. They settled in Shangani Street in the coastal town of Mtwara.
“It was a good house. I spent a little bit of time admiring almost everything inside the house. After a while I was served with food,” says Mwajuma, adding that she was later given a room where she slept on a mattress on the floor with a little young girl.
Tears flowing in her face, Mwajuma says she was surprised when four other young girls joined them at midnight.
“I started asking myself where they were coming from at this wee hours, what were they doing. But as more questions hit the back of my mind I fell asleep,” says the girl.
She says the next morning she woke up very early and accompanied her aunt to her restaurant where she cleaned the restaurant and performed other chores.
Mwajuma explains that after two weeks of stay in Mtwara one night her aunt told her to accompany a man telling her “not to let down the man.”
“My aunt ordered me to do all that the man asked me to. Then when you come back you will find your money here,” she recalls with sadness.
“In fact by then I was a mature girl but I didn’t know anything about sex. And when I refused to do what the man told me I was heavily beaten. But I insisted to the man that I shouldn’t have succumbed to his demands,” narrates the girl.
As a result her aunt punished her by not giving food to her. “I thought of going back home but I had not even a single coin for fare. But I was encouraged by the fact I had won the battle,” says Mwajuma.
“About six months passed without encountering a similar incidence, something that made me to relax.”
No sooner did she start forgetting that nasty experience than for the second time her aunt asked her to accompany another man telling her that the man would give her some money and drive her back shortly.
“I agreed and got into a posh car before the man drove away,” she says as tears rolled on her cheeks.
She says the man stopped the car closer to a decent house along the Mtwara-Dar es Salaam road, and ordered her to drop down and follow him.
“By this time I started fearing for the worse. When we got into a room the man locked the door and took off his clothes and he ordered me to do the same, but I refused. He looked angry, pushed me onto the bed and took off all my clothes,” she says.
“No…No…No...No… I shouted but nobody seemed to hear me. And when I attempted to shout again he covered my mouth. It was too late, the man raped me…again and again…it was so painful,” she says adding:
“I cried to my maximum level but it did not help. He then brought me back home where I found my aunt waiting for me,” she narrates her sad story with painful emotions.
She says after she was dropped she went straight forward to the sleeping room where she found her colleagues and they laughed at her while others encouraged her to take it easy saying that was part of life.
“My aunt came in our room and threw 5,000/- to me. I wanted to throw it away but my colleagues pleaded with me,” says Mwajuma.
Mwajuma reveals the rape has traumatized her but it later turned to be part of her life.
“In the day time we were engaged in the restaurant while at night we became sexual slaves. Our clients (the men) paid money to our aunt then picked up any of us for the service. Our aunt’s role was to give us food and little money for buying clothes and other basic needs,” says the girl.
She adds: “I did the sex business for one year. To be frank I don’t know the number of men I have slept with during that period. Some of the men used condoms, and some of them refused to use condoms.”
She says life went on as usual until one day when she met a woman who introduced herself as a member of Kiota Women Health Development (KIWOHEDE), and she asked her to pull herself from the sex business.
Mwajuma says that after a long discussion with the KIWOHEDE woman she accepted the offer and joined the programme.
“I thank God that I went for HIV test and I was diagnosed negative. I am now employed as a hotel receptionist, and my one year of employment here has made my mother happy because I now can assist her with some basic needs. I don’t think of going back to sexual business. Now it’s time for me to realize my dreams,” she says.
She says she has forgiven her aunt and all the men who did her wrong, adding: “I have now opened a new chapter of my life. I am a new born.”
She says the government and other stakeholders should empower young girls to accomplish their dreams.
When reached by phone, the woman who had hired Mwajuma for commercial sex denied to have lived in Mtwara, adding that she had not known Mwajuma before she hang up saying it was a wrong number. She claimed that she was living in Dar es Salaam.
Some parents in Mtwara town expressed disgust at immoral behavior among the society. “People should go back to God, and religious leaders should continue righting the society,” says 52-year-old Zuhura Khalidi, a resident of Mtwara town.
KIWOHEDE, is a programme aimed at preventing and combating of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The coordinator of the programme, Devotha Raymond, confirmed that Mwajuma was among 400 children who were withdrawn from the commercial sex business during implementation of the two-year (2014 and 2015) programme.
“The project targeted 700 children but we succeed getting 704 children. About 400 of these were withdrawn from commercial sex and 300 others were saved from engaging into the business. Through the programme children were empowered to acquire vocational skills and create conducive environment for employing themselves,” says Ms Raymond.
She says the girls were taken to Vocational Education Training Colleges in Mtwara and Mtawanya where they learned carpentry, vehicle mechanics, tailoring, house electrical wiring and hotel management.
“Some of them have been employed in the private sector and some have individual employment, and some have gone back to their homes,” says the programme coordinator.
She says the number of children engaged commercial sex in Mtwara town is alarming. Areas frequented by the call girls are called Kwa Bother Y, Jojozi, Copa Cabana and Villa Park. She adds that some of them leave their mobile telephone numbers and photos to guest houses’ front desks and when there is a customer a girl is called to entertain him.
Ms Raymond says some motorcycle riders popularly known as bodaboda have phone numbers of the call girls and when clients need them the motorcyclists phone them.
The programme manager believes that if there are proper plans of mainstreaming poor children in capacity building it would help them to secure jobs, and subsequently discouraging them from engaging in forced prostitution.
The Tanzania Law of the Child Act No. 21of 2009 brings together children with specific provisions from a range of national laws into one document. It establishes a framework for protection of children from abuse, violence and neglect at local and national levels, and sets standards for juvenile justice.
The Mtwara Regional Paralegal Center says it is difficult to assist children engaged in commercial sex because communities isolate them, and they are not given any support when they report incidents of rape to state organs.
“When the victim reports any incidents of abuse against him or her, the suspect colludes with other victims’ relatives who later advise him or her to withdraw after promising to give the victim support,” says Mullowellah Mtendah, Mtwara regional paralegal centre executive director.
Mtwara Mikindani Municipal Social Welfare Officer, Godlove Miho, says abuse of children’s rights in his area has gone down compared to before 2014/15 when strong intervention was undertaken.
“Children’s sexual and physical abuse incidents still exist, however, the number of such incidents has gone down compared to before 2014/15. In 2014/15 we had two projects one aimed at withdrawing and protecting children from commercial sex and another focused on domestic work,” says Miho.