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Unemployment Pushes Namibian Youth into Online Sex Work

The crisis of youth unemployment in Namibia is driving an increasing number of young people into the perilous world of online sex work. Unem...

The crisis of youth unemployment in Namibia is driving an increasing number of young people into the perilous world of online sex work.
Unemployment is a pervasive issue affecting many youths, but its impact is particularly severe in Namibia, where unemployment rates are alarmingly high among young graduates with university degrees who can't find jobs. According to recent Afrobarometer statistics, over 64% of young Namibians are without jobs, creating a socio-economic environment rife with challenges and desperate decisions being made by young people to earn a living.

Despite Namibia being ranked as one of the best democratic African countries, some Namibians fake political asylum in Europe to escape the socioeconomic crisis. One of the most troubling trends emerging from this socioeconomic crisis is the increasing number of young people turning to online sex work, such as on platforms like Pornhub, as a means of putting bread on the table. For many young Namibians, the prospects of finding stable, well-paying jobs are slim, leading to a sense of hopelessness, depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Online Sex Work

In this bleak economic landscape, the internet has become both a lifeline and a trap. Online sex work offers a seemingly easy way to make money quickly as long as you have access to the internet and a computer. Unlike traditional prostitution, which often requires afflictions and brothels for legal protection and operation, online sex work demands only a willingness to participate and access to a digital device with an internet connection.

Platforms facilitating online sex work, such as OnlyFans, Patreon, ManyVids, MyFreeCams, Clip4Sale, CamSoda, and various adult cam sites, have grown among Namibian online users. These platforms have made it easier for individuals to enter and participate in online sex work freely, providing the potential for substantial earnings and a degree of autonomy over their work. For unemployed youth in Namibia, these promises are incredibly alluring. With few alternative income opportunities, many see online sex work as a viable, if not ideal, solution to their financial woes.

However, the reality of online sex work often falls short of its promises. Many young people entering this industry face exploitation, harassment, and abuse which leads them to be tricked into human trafficking. The anonymity of the internet can embolden predators and scammers, leading to dangerous and traumatic experiences for those involved. Furthermore, the earnings from online sex work are highly variable and often insufficient to meet basic living expenses, trapping individuals in a cycle of poverty and exploitation.

The Psychological Toll

Some as young as 18 have even created posters on social media like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to publicly advertise their services. – a high school dropout originally from Outapi who sells her services from a Windhoek guesthouse alongside her 20-year-old friend. She narrated that since last November, she has resorted to openly advertising on social media that she provides sexual services and creates videos of herself engaging in sexual intercourse for an additional fee to make ends meet.

“I was forced into this business because of personal and financial constraints. Life has not been kind to me. I had a rough upbringing. My parents and I have a rocky relationship, which forced me to leave home for Windhoek when I was only 11 years old. I found a place to stay in Ombili, where I paid N$150 for a room with no water and electricity. Now we live in a guest house," she recounted. “I am doing all this to make money and to be able to afford to complete high school next year,” she said.

Another 24-year-old woman from the Goreangab area in Katutura revealed that she failed school and was forced into sex work because she could not land any other job to support herself. “If I had a job, I would not have done this. If I get one, I will quit,” she said. “I have a few friends with whom I host clients with. We charge N$250 per round.”  

It's not only women who indulge in sex for money, men are also involved as some assume all roles to satisfy both women and men for money. A pimp based in Tsumeb said he provides sex workers, who offer an array of services. A pimp is a person who arranges clients for sex workers, taking a percentage of their earnings in return. “Those ladies range from N$200 per night,” he said.

For many young Namibians, the decision to engage in online sex work is not just a financial one, but also a deeply emotional and psychological struggle. The rates for various services offered by Namibian sex workers, including the cost for 'nudes', 'quickies', a 'threesome',  'blow-job' a 'one-night stand', and a 'weekend escapade', as well as a price for a ‘round without a condom. The charges are roughly indicated below:

  1. Naked video call: N$50
  2. Nudes: N$50 for 20 videos
  3. Sex without a condom: N$150
  4. One round: N$250
  5. Threesome: N$600
  6. One-night stand: N$600
  7. Weekend Escapade: N$1,500
Despite sex without a condom being particularly dangerous, it is considered more profitable than other types of services. Speaking on Network TV’s The Evening Review show recently, health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe revealed that HIV/AIDS remains a challenge in Namibia - with nearly 5,000 new infections recorded annually. The real number of infections could be much higher, as not all infected people have been tested for the incurable sexually transmitted virus.

The Ministry of Gender's spokesperson, Lukas Haufiku, said the ministry does not have a specific program yet, but it offers psycho-social support to help affected individuals cope with social issues they might be experiencing. The ministry also acts as a referral to relevant stakeholders, including social workers, the health ministry, and the police. Haufiku highlighted the ministry’s women empowerment programs that help uplift women in communities nationwide. “One of our programs, income-generating activities, targets women in communities and helps them generate income through small money-making initiatives to empower themselves,” Haufiku said. 

Addressing the root causes of youth unemployment and the turn to online sex work in Namibia requires a comprehensive approach:

  1. Economic Diversification: Invest in various sectors to create more job opportunities.
  2. Education and Training: Improve access to quality education and vocational training programs.
  3. Demand and Supply Model: To avoid oversupplying an already saturated job market with too many graduates, it's crucial to align educational programs with market demands and focus only on skill development that addresses current and future economic needs.
  4. Entrepreneurship Support: Provide resources and support for young entrepreneurs.
  5. Mental Health Services: Expand access to mental health care for those affected by the psychological impacts of sex work and unemployment.
  6. Social Safety Nets: Strengthen social support systems to provide financial stability and reduce the need for desperate measures.
The crisis of youth unemployment in Namibia is driving an increasing number of young people into the perilous world of online sex work. On whether sex work is legal or not in Namibia, justice ministry executive director Gladice Pickering said: “There is nothing in the constitution [about the matter]. "You will know that recently there was a court case on sodomy and a reference was made to the Immoral Practices Act, which is a very old legislation but, unfortunately, still applies”.

Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach, focusing on economic, educational, and social interventions to provide Namibian youth with the opportunities and support they need to build a better future without resorting to such dangerous means.