This is an excerpt from my essay Poverty: The Effects and a Moral Obligation to Help Others. You can find the downloadable PDF with complete citations in this post.
In Linda Borho’s case study on youth poverty in the Dominican Republic, she discusses the concept of youth at-risk. There is a cyclical limitation that arises from poverty. Children that are raised in impoverished areas are prone to get caught up in “criminality, violence, substance abuse, drug dealing, risky sexual behavior, and prostitution,” which are all situations that do not create a set up for a very promising future. When these children, who likely lacked guidance, have their own children, it will be difficult for them to guide their children to make better decisions that will push them towards more productive and prosperous lifestyles, allowing the cycle to continue.
According to Borho, “it is assumed that over 50 percent of 12 to 24 year old citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean are involved in risky behavior in various forms.” She draws a connection with this “risky behavior” and a lack of jobs and opportunity. Her conclusion is that the lack of available jobs creates a lack of ambition and encourages the youth to partake in this risky behavior. Unemployment not only leads towards obvious financial setbacks but also has social repercussions. In the poorest areas, there is a plethora of violence and a lack of security.
The lack of education comes a lack of preparedness to work. I have observed that many areas of work stay within a family in areas of poverty where education beyond the secondary level is not commonly promoted or made attainable. If a father is a blacksmith, his son will likely be one, as well. If a mother is a seamstress, the father will be one, as well. The same goes for other occupations such as military officers, prostitutes, bakers, store owners, and so on. People in these small villages do whatever their parents did because those are the skills that they have access to learn.
It is common for people living in poor places to be exploited for their labor by large companies that are willing to capitalize on their desperation. Some different industries that take advantage of these people who are willing to do anything to feed themselves and their families are the sex-tourism industry and the agriculture industry. Dr. Kevin A. Osten says:
It breaks my heart and sunders my soul to observe the sex workers here [Zona Colonial, Dominican Republic], to see young girls and women the same age as my nieces wooing white male tourists for sex in order to eat, to have a roof overhead or beds to sleep in, to care for a sick family member, to survive. A selfish part of me wishes I didn’t know what I know, and wishes for blissful ignorance of the activity around me.
The Dominican Republic is a major capital for sex tourism because “prostitution is neither illegal nor legal in the Dominican Republic.” It is typical for girls in their late teens and early twenties to make their bodies available for purchase by older men in areas with large amounts of tourism. Generally, the preferred clients for Dominican sex workers are male American and European tourists, as they tend to pay much larger prices than local men. This type of prostitution varies from worker to worker. Although the majority are heterosexual females, there are also transgender workers, homosexual workers, and male workers. Some girls have admitted to working through a pimp and others have admitted to scouting out men via online platforms.
In the Dominican Republic, sex work does not end at sex tourism. In order to completely understand the magnitude of this issue, it is important to acknowledge that it members of Dominican Policia (military) units, including the one based in Las Matas de Farfán, commonly use the services of adolescent prostitutes for the obvious pleasure. The corrupt Policia is also known to accept the services of these girls as payment to make us for crimes committed by the pimps. With corruption at this level, the girls who are pulled into the sex industry have very little hope of escaping.
In July 2015, I met a young girl named Diana. Diana was 11-years-old at the time and came from a family of pimps and prostitutes. She was terrified of getting into the family business and swore that she would never do the things that her mother and sisters were pressuring her to do. The next summer I met with little Diana again. She spent several days with our mission group. One evening, she came in a little girl’s cartoon themed nightgown to say good night. The next morning, when she came back to visit us, her cousins and brother who had joined her would not let them near her. They said she was dirty. We pulled one of the older boys aside and asked why they were suddenly treating her like this. He told us that on her way home the previous night, a group of men pulled up in a vehicle and whistled and called for her services and she told them that she did not feel like it. Her 16-year-old brother continued to force her into the van with these men and told them he needed the money, so they could have at it.
Diana is the fourth sister in her family that has to go through this. Her 15-year-old sister, Rosa, is dying of aids and she commonly services the Policia. Both sisters work in brothels. They have two older sisters and a mother who are prostitutes, as well. For them, it seems that there is not other path. They are desperate for food and money, so they sell their bodies just to get by.
In addition to the mental and physical health related consequences, this occupation negatively affects these girls’ ability to work other jobs in the future due to social repercussions. When being exploited in this nature, the already fragile morale and confidence of the young sex workers is damaged. Osten tells of the grief that is visible in the eyes and faces of many of these girls. He and his colleagues wanted to reach out to offer aid or guidance to some of the sex workers present at the hotels in which they stayed in order to but decided against it for multiple reasons. He says:
What good would that do except deny these girls and women the money they need to eat, have shelter, and survive? Or put their lives at risk from their pimps if they lost that client through our interference? Jobs are difficult to come by in Santo Domingo, especially ones that pay enough to care for you and your family.
The sad reality is this: the lives of many individuals, most of which are young girls who have no rights granted by their government, are dependent on the selling sex. In a country as uncivilized as the Dominican Republic, sex work is extremely risky. Contraceptives and preventative measures for STDs are unaffordable, which puts the prostitutes at risk of harming their health or conceiving and unwanted child. Children come at great costs, which would put a child with a mother who can barely afford to pay for her own necessities at a great disadvantage.
In addition to those who work the sex work industry, many other workers are exploited as well. The agriculture industry, specifically the sugar cane farms, in the Dominican Republic has laborers who work under the hot sun in less than favorable conditions. The pay is not sufficient for living expenses and is certainly not appropriate in relation to the work that is demanded of them. Both children and adults are affected by this type of exploitation. About 3 percent of children in the Dominican Republic between the ages of 5 and 14 are working, likely in grueling or dangerous conditions.