Looking for family members who have emigrated to Europe, or in search of better opportunities, Congolese girls instead find themselves prey at the hands of human traffickers.
RABAT — Dressed in blue skin-tight pants that reveal her curves, a revealing top that showcases her breasts and knee-high black boots, Evelyne walks the streets surrounding a squalid building in J5, a district in the Moroccan capital of Rabat where many African immigrants live. "Psst," she calls to a middle-aged man carrying shopping bags. "Wanna come upstairs, honey?" she asks, swaying her hips.
Evelyn is just 15. She comes from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and she is already a veteran prostitute, having been working the streets for two years. It all started in Maghnia, an Algerian town on the border with Morocco. "To reach Morocco, I was forced to prostitute in the transit camp where immigration candidates stay," she says. Like many other Congolese girls, she now does the "world’s oldest job" because of her family.
She says she was forced to flee her home in Makala, a densely populated neighborhood in Kinshasa. "My family threw me out because a pastor prophesied that I was a witch," she explains. After meeting an immigrant smuggler, a "cooperator" in local jargon, she was offered a journey to Europe in exchange for sexual favors. "When Guy, my cooperator, promised to take me with him, I didn't stop to think before I had sex with him," she says, showing no sign of remorse.
As a child of the streets, Evelyne was easy prey for the smuggler. But every circumstance is different. "Me, a cooperator offered my family to take me to Europe to my sister who lives in Lyon for $3,000," explains Mimi, who comes from a good family. "He gave my father to understand that we would take the plane in Brazzaville, but I arrived here in Morocco by road, traveling from country to country."
This is how the dangerous adventures of these minors begin, in the streets in Kinshasa. "The smugglers who live in Europe go back to their homeland to get these minors and take them to their parents, or brothers and sisters in Europe," explains an official from the Congolese embassy in Morocco.
For a trip that costs those who can pay cash $3,000 to $5,000, the journey starts in Brazzaville. "There, they put us in a pre-rented room where girls and boys sleep together on mats," says a young girl rescued by Voices of Migrant Women in Morocco. This association works hard to get these minors away from the migrants who exploit them and keep them in a state of virtual slavery. Then, in similar conditions, the journey continues through Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria and across the desert to Morocco.
In the meantime, the girls have to obey their persecutors. "First, the cooperators start abusing us before forcing us into prostitution when money runs out," says a girl who managed to escape. On top of that, the smugglers deprive them of all sorts of things, including food. "Sometimes, we only eat once a day, and the meals aren't always good," the girl continues. "Not to mention that we can't do anything without permission. The cooperator acts like a master with his slaves."
Says Hélène Yamta, head of Voices of Migrant Women in Morocco, "These minors, often curvaceous teenagers, are prized prey for adults craving young flesh. They're at the mercy of these savages who have their documents in their possession and even filter their communications when their parents call them."
According to the organization Caritas Morocco, between six and eight Congolese minors come to them every week to tell them about the rapes and prostitution to which they are subjected between Kinshasa and Rabat. Often handed over by their families to unscrupulous people, their lives since leaving their hometowns are a succession of ordeals. And yet, they generally refuse to go back, still hoping to reach Europe.
What is certain is that they cannot count on other Congolese migrants to help them. As some of these young girls indeed experienced firsthand, they too will take advantage of them.