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Tshwane family welcomes missing daughter home

Sex workers continue to face threat of rape and abuse from police
Written by Tshilidzi Tuwani

Sophy Maringa had high hopes for the granddaughter she lost three years ago. The woman who returned to her this year in her granddaughter’s place is almost unrecognisable, she says.

“If clients refuse to put on a condom on – even though some are HIV positive and some have sexually transmitted infections – you cannot force them because that client can report you to the boss” (File photo)

Census data from 2001 found that the majority of children on the streets were between the ages of 10 and 17 years.

Thandi* had lived with her grandmother almost all her life. Maringa had high hopes that her granddaughter would finish school and become a respected member of their Tshwane community.

That changed in 2008 when Thandi became pregnant at the age of 15 years old. She began staying out all night and drinking, sometimes even stumbling into her grandmother’s home drunk, Maringa told OurHealth.

In 2010 and at the age of 17 years old, Thandi vanished and left her two-year-old baby boy in Maringa’s care.

Maringa called Thandi’s mother, Emily, and the two began their own search.

“We searched for her until we found her in Sunnyside (Pretoria) through the police’s assistance,” Maringa told OurHealth. “She looked horrified and strange, like someone on drugs.”

Thandi came home and was happy to see her baby boy but the joy was short-lived. One night, after putting her son to bed – she disappeared again.

“She came home sick and empty handed”[quote float=”right”]”My daughter would call me sometimes to assure me of her safety and (ask) us not to open a missing person docket”

In the three years that followed, Maringa and Emily would receive the odd phone call from Thandi – just enough to let them know she was alive and ask after the child. She never told them where she was.

“My daughter would call me sometimes to assure me of her safety and (ask) us not to open a missing person docket,” Emily said.

The 2001 census identified about 2, 200 children as being homeless, largely between the ages of 10 and 17 years. A subsequent report by the Office of the Presidency and UNICEF argued that this largely underestimated the amount of homeless youth and also did not include children who may work on the street but live with families. The report notes that street life leaves children particularly vulnerable to abuse and transactional sex.

Thandi’s most recent call home was different.

“Last week I got a mysterious call,” Maringa said. “It was my granddaughter who spoke with a shaky voice that really made me anxious.”

“Two days after the call, she came home around 21h00 and I could not believe my eyes,” she added. “She was sick and frail as if she had not had food for days.”

Emily and Maringa took Thandi to the local clinic, where a nurse confirmed she was weak from diarrhoea and vomiting. Thandi also tested HIV positive.

Emily says she hopes her daughter will recover from the trauma of her missing years.

“I think she will learn to live a normal life after all because she said she will never go to Hillbrow or Sunnyside again,” she told OurHealth. “My daughter may have been using drugs and having unprotected sex for the last three years.”

“She came home sick and empty handed,” she added. – Health-e News Service.

 *Name changed to protect her identity.

About the author

Tshilidzi Tuwani

Tshilidzi Tuwani is an OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from Gauteng's Tshwane Health District.