“One night, I went with a client to his home along Jinja Road expecting to offer him the services (commercial sex) we usually give.

We reached his home but I was surprised when he told me that he had another job he wanted me to do,” Ms Hajara Mukyaala, reformed sex worker, narrates.

Ms Mukyaala, 27, and mother of three, says at that moment she was scared to the extent that she thought her client could kill her. “He went to a drawer, pulled out a big case and ordered me to open it. I was shocked to see a body with a bullet wound,” she narrated her ordeal.

“Do not be scared, this is a body of my wife and I want you to wash it and dress it properly,” she quotes her client.

Ms Mukyaala says she did not hesitate and asked her client to provide her with gloves. But there was none. “I diligently did the work with my bare hands. He paid me Shs20,000 and left me to go back home.

But during the trying moment of the 30-minute job, my mind was home – thinking about my children I had locked in my two-roomed house.”

Left home at 12

Ms Mukyaala, now living positively with HIV/Aids, says she left home aged 12 where she lived with her mother after the death of her father, and, by the time of this interview, she had spent close to 15 years in the red district business. “When my dad died, life was difficult as my mother had other younger children to look after. I would spend day time watching films in video halls and at night sleep on verandahs,” Ms Mukyaala says.

Driven by hunger to sex-work

She says she was driven into the business by hunger.
“A vendor bought for me a chapatti, juice and some other stuff worth Shs1,500 and later slept with me. This is when I realised that I could survive by engaging in prostitution,” she recalls.

Ms Florence Masuly, the Programme Coordinator Tusitukire Wamu an HIV/Aids community-based organisation in Bwaise, a Kampala suburb, says prostitution in this particular slum is on the increase. So far there are about 300 women involved in the illegal trade. “This is a big challenge and is growing day-after-day. The slum has one of the highest HIV/Aids prevalence at 10 per cent compared to the national average of 6.7 per cent,” she said.

Police are part of the problem

In a study of Kampala last year carried out by Action Aid International Uganda and its partners, Home Based Care Initiative, HIV/Aids incidence among slum dwellers has doubled in general due to the rising trends of urbanisation, gender inequality and unemployment. Consequently, the number of orphans and widows in Kampala has also risen.

Ms Mukyaala, now a community development volunteer, says she interacts with sex workers and they confess that police are still part of their problem. She said they fear to report to police because they are the very people who abuse their human rights.

“How can you go to report to the very police men who rape you? They can come and finish you (shoot) at night. We still need our life”.

Commercial sex workers claim that police officers on night patrol at times order them to have intercourse without condoms, exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases. “Not once or twice, I have been raped by police men on patrol. If you refuse they arrest you and detain you until you pay them some money. This has happened to my colleagues and it is still happening,” Ms Mukyaala said.

When contacted on phone, Police deputy spokesperson Vincent Sekate could neither deny nor confirm the accusation. “I encourage victims of such circumstances, if they can identify those who committed crimes, to report to police so that the cases can be investigated.

They can go and report to Police Standards Unit if they fear the ordinary reporting mechanism. If they (police) are found guilty, they will be dealt with according to the law,” he said. According to Uganda law, rape is a capital offence that attracts a maximum death sentence. But since the night she was forced to wash a corpse, Ms Mukyaala vowed never to engage in prostitution again.

Mr Robert Kanwagi, the coordinator of the Breaking the Ice Project, which is being implemented by the group Reproductive Health Uganda in Kampala, said a recent survey found that HIV/Aids prevalence among sex workers in the city was as high as 47.2 per cent, compared to the national prevalence of 6.7 per cent.

Better future for orphans of sex-workers

But one family has joined other NGOs in lighting up the future of 60 children and orphans of commercial sex workers living with HIV/Aids.

The Hemi Bhatt family, which was expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972, is planning to invest Shs132 million in providing free education to the vulnerable children.
St. James Primary School is one of the only publicly funded schools in Bwaise and was frequently flooded with raw sewerage during heavy rains. But Dr Bhatt recently renovated the school to stop the floods from entering the classrooms. “As a family, we are paying school fees for orphans at St. James Primary School. We also buy uniforms, food and ARVs for the children and their parents. We have a project running up to 2016,” he said.

Source: Saturday Monitor | Stephen Wandera

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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