Conversations With Young Mothers Working in Sex Work

Young caregivers affected by HIV and their children are a critical and growing population that need more support if we are to end AIDS and achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals. As part of the #YoungFamiliesFirst campaign, The Coalition for Children Affected by AIDS worked with SWEAT Mothers for the Future Programme in South Africa to find out what young mothers working in sex work would need to enable them and their children to survive and thrive. We thank each of them for sharing their experiences and hopes for the future. For information about policies and programming that works for young caregivers, visit the #YoungFamiliesFirst campaign page.

Provide childcare to adolescent parents to help them stay in school

“I am 20 years of age. To be a sex worker and HIV positive at my age is very challenging to me. I have a 1 year old son and I live with 3 sisters and 2 brothers, and our mother who is unemployed. I was 18 years when I got pregnant and my boyfriend and I were at school at that time. When the baby was born he was not supportive and I was struggling a lot. I needed help with things like nappies, food and baby clothes and for me to finish school I needed money for someone to look for my child. I still have a dream to finish my studies and become my son’s role model. I also want to help my community to support teenagers who are smoking and drinking and doing sex work at an early age.”

Provide economic support to adolescent parents and their children

“I am 22 years old. I live alone in Cape Town with my baby girl after my mum passed away. To live there is so challenging. I make a living doing sex work and I also do people’s hair. I have a child support grant which I use to buy toiletries and baby stuff. I have to be strong for my child as the baby’s father does not support me. Sometimes I sleep without eating anything. Also the environment is not good for me and my baby. I still have my dream to continue with my studies to become a nurse. I never thought of being a sex worker, but because of my struggles I ended up doing it. If I can provide for my siblings and my child, and finish school I will be happy.”

Value adolescent parents and their children as part of society

“I am 20 years of age. I live in Cape Town but originally I’m from Eastern Cape. I have a baby girl who is 6 months old. I don’t have parents and I survive with grant money because the father of my child ran away. It is not easy to be a single parent at my age. I have 3 siblings that are younger than me who I have to look after, and I didn’t finish school because of my early pregnancy. My life is hard sometimes and I have to ask my neighbour’s for food and money for nappies. I wish to go back to school and finish what I wanted to do.

End stigma and discrimination against key populations and young families

“I am 29 years old and I was born in Eastern Cape in a rural area. At the age of 17, I ended up getting pregnant and being a young mother was very difficult and I had to dropout of school. Things had to change when I became a mother to my daughter. There were no job opportunities in the Eastern Cape, so I had to move to Cape Town to look for a job as things didn’t work out as I hoped. As young as I was, I had to provide for my daughter. I joined sex working industry. I face stigma as I am sex worker, a mother and a lesbian. My child is facing the same stigma during this pandemic. I have had to leave my daughter in Eastern Cape with my grandmother. I work to pay for food and school fees for my daughter and so that I can receive my treatment for HIV. It’s hard. I continue to try to find another job to provide for my daughter because she will start high school and I need to pay for new uniforms and school fees.”

Young mothers must be supported to return to school and must be able to secure child care support, and we must all stand up to all forms of stigma and discrimination affecting young families. Particularly, for young families from key population who face additional stigma and discrimination when accessing services.

For more information about the #YoungFamiliesFirst campaign, visit here.