The girls work in Hillbrow, 
a dangerous part of Johannesburg

Zimbabwe's economic crisis is forcing more people to leave the country and look for work in neighbouring South Africa.

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa spoke to some of the girls who have discovered that finding work is not easy and, out of desperation, have turned to the sex trade.

The girls are getting ready for a night out on the town. They have to look good; if they don't, they will not be able to pay the rent. The youngest of them is just 16-years old.

One immigrant, Buhle, says: "I am scared, but then there is nothing I can do because, if I stayed at home, there would be even more problems there - no food, no money for paying rent - so we come to Johannesburg for work."

They call their customers "boyfriends" and they sell their bodies for about $3 a session, but one customer a night does not pay the bills.

"I don't have one boyfriend in South Africa, because if you have one boyfriend when the month ends he will tell you he doesn't have the money for the rent," Nomsa, another immigrant, said.

"Maybe you will spend almost every day going there and sleeping there but after that you say 'I don't have any food, I don't have money for rent.' And he will give you just 20 rand, with 20 rand you can't pay rent ... and then you start having many boyfriends."

Money to survive

They tried begging for money on the streets, but the people they asked wanted more than just a thank you.

Patience explains what one man said to her: "If you want me to do this for you, you can sleep with me so that I can give you money to survive."

The girls' parents think they are working as waitresses in a hotel. They don't dare tell them the truth. As long as they keep sending food home regularly no one will ask questions.

Nomsa used to waitress at a hotel in Zimbabwe while her two friends were at high school. They both wanted to go into nursing when they graduated. Things did not work out as planned.

Nomsa came to Johannesburg first and when Patience and Buhle could not afford to finish school they asked her for help. She told them to jump the border and join her. They had no idea what they would have to do.

So they scour the streets of Johannesburg looking for money.

Dangerous district

"I think it will be a good night because it is Monday and everyone has money," Nomsa told Al Jazeera as the girls set out for Hillbrow, a notorious part of the city.

If you are a woman and alone in this area, there is a good chance that you could get mugged, raped or even killed.

The first car stops and the girls run over. It is a quick exchange because the driver is not willing to pay $3 a girl.

Ten minutes later another car pulls up. We are told that he wants the youngest girl for the whole night but refuses to use any protection. The girls say "No."

A little later a regular drives up and Nomsa gets in.

It looks as if it is going to be a slow night for the other two, but they hope that Nomsa at least makes enough to pay the rent tomorrow.  

Source: Al Jazeera