In Ukraine June 1 marks Children’s Day. However, an alarming number of teenage girls, many escaping problems at home, have turned to prostitution. Around 11,000 to 15,000 according to UNICEF.
The country is also suffering from one of the worst AIDS epidemics in Europe. Teen prostitutes are extremely vulnerable to HIV due to lack of knowledge or access to methods of prevention.
In the Mykolaiv region of Southern Ukraine, the death rate from HIV infection in the 15-24 age group is one of the highest in the country.
Seventeen-year-old Nataliya explained how she first got involved in sex work.
“My friend has been doing it for seven years, she told me I could do it too. At first I didn’t want to. Now I have enough money. I can help my mom. She doesn’t know what I do, not even my friends know,” she confided.
Nataliya hopes to go on to study medicine, but another girl we spoke to – Yuliya – has no plans to quit.
“There aren’t so many opportunities to make money in our city. What I do really helps me and I’m OK with it. I also like the fact that now I have someone to ask for advice, to talk to and even listen to that advice in certain situations. But one of the most important things is that I can check my health regularly and talk to a psychologist,” Yuliya notes.
In Mykolaiv, the UNITUS charity works alongside UNICEF to provide healthcare, social services and psychological help to young people at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Out of 350 female clients, most have been tested. Up to 10 percent have the virus.
“One of the biggest problems is an extremely low level of knowledge and understanding of how HIV is transmitted. And even if people know it, they still do not regard this risk important,” said Olena Sakovych from UNICEF.
A mobile HIV testing unit can find women most at risk on the streets and provide them with advice and access to a psychologist.
Studies show that use of mobile units can reduce the numbers infected.