Child Prostitution in Zimbabwe
|September 17th, 2015|
|tags:||AIDS, Bulawayo, child prostitution, HIV, sex trafficing, Zimbabwe|
“I am not in the bar because I like it, I am in the bar to survive”. These words are at the heart of many young Zimbabwean girls that parade themselves in pursuit of a customer that is willing to pay the price for an hour or two of sex.
Prostitution, a trade as old as humanity, is illegal but rampant in Zimbabwe. The saddest part about it, is that now more than ever girls as young as 12-years-old are climbing onto the bandwagon of sex work due to poverty and at times negative peer pressure.
An investigation by Fairplanet revealed that child prostitution is on the rise in both the capital city, Harare, and the second capital, Bulawayo, as well as many other cities in the country. Research suggests that there could be as many as 10 million children involved in child prostitution worldwide, the actual statistics for the number of child prostitutes in Zimbabwe are still difficult to obtain.
Few options for survival
Most of the children that engage in prostitution are having sex with as many as 10 men per night often just to be able to procure basic essentials such as food and shelter. The child prostitutes can be seen hanging around night spots and the streets surrounding them such as George Silundika Street in Bulawayo and the popular Avenues in Harare.
“I don’t enjoy this – I just do it for the money. There is nothing to enjoy while sleeping with someone whom you do not love. Someone old enough to be your father or even your Grandpa,” said one of the 15-year-old child prostitutes, who identified herself as Effie.
Some of the girls said they had become willing victims of sex work because they had very few options for survival after becoming orphans or as a result of having run away from abusive homes or having been kicked out for misbehaving.
“When I got pregnant my step-mother said that she could not take care of me and so I had to go. I started living on the streets and eventually found a home under park bridges. When I gave birth I told myself that if I had managed to take care of the baby in my belly then I could still do it. For me this is the job I found, I upgraded myself and found somewhere to stay. I do it because I know that at the end of the day I will need the money to buy milk for my child, to buy my groceries and to pay for my rent,” explained 17-year-old Tariro.
As the country struggles against economic and political problems that have plagued the nation for several years now, child prostitution remains to grow and presents itself as a salient problem that needs urgent attention. Despite the scourge of HIV/AIDS the young girls have surrendered themselves to the pitfalls of sex work and have accepted that whatever befalls them is part and parcel of leading such a life.
“On a regular night we charge US$10 for a short time session and US$30 for the whole night, but when it gets tough the charges can go even as low as US$2. I get all sorts of customers everyday, from managers to nobodies. Whatever comes, I take, so long it is going to give me money. Sometimes you choose but one loses choice when they are desperate for money,” said Thando, an 18-year-old who is now a teen veteran.
“Some of the clients are bad because they refuse to put on condoms when they have paid and at times they refuse to pay for a session stating that it had been a good time for both of us. It’s a risk being out at night. I am afraid of getting STIs and even AIDS but sometimes I just give in because I need to put food on the table for my brothers and little sister. Sometimes I cry but then I tell myself that’s how I live, that’s how I can afford to make ends meet for my family. If I could get another job, even one that paid me US$250 I would leave this job. I see more than this for myself, one day I want to be able to settle down” said 15-year-old Chichi in a resigned voice.
“It’s a question of desperation“
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 34, of which Zimbabwe is signatory, requires that the state should protect children from sexual exploitation, including prostitution and involvement in pornography. However, the recent Constitutional Court decision to outlaw arbitrary arrest of women on allegations of soliciting for paid sex on the streets, has led to an increase in the number of younger sex workers as there are even less rigorous measures to make sure that people under the age of 18 are restricted from nightspots.
Various campaigns and organisations have been created to protest against the existence of child prostitution. Many of these organisations have each been taking part in this joint battle through advocacy, information dissemination as well as the provision of health services to women and girls including those that are already involved in sex work.
According to Nyaradzo Mashayamombe, the director of Tag a Life International – a Girl Child Rights organisation, the rise in child prostitution is a reflection of the economy and the living standards in Zimbabwe.
“It’s a question of desperation; some of these children are child heads in their families, so kids are trying to survive. Tag a Life works to empower girls with their rights, teaching children and empowering communities to protect girls through advocating for local leaders to take care of such children,” said Mashayamombe.
Mashayamombe noted that the greatest challenge to some of the efforts by her organisation and other like-minded organisations in the fight against child prostitution is that of a lack of resources to implement the campaign activities. She bemoaned the lack of access to education and the lack of access to meaningful economic activities that girls and women can engage in.
“What we can do is to advocate for the government to have a sustainable system that supports children to ensure that they are protected and to make sure that our social systems are working. But how do we have our social systems working when the government is struggling with finances?” said Mashayamombe.
In an effort to help both the older and younger sex workers the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV /AIDS Research (CeSHHAR) runs an open clinic programme that offers free health services to sex workers around the country.
“As part of our HIV prevention programme we offer free treatment of STIs, minor ailments and free family planning as well as condom distribution, HIV Counselling and testing. We don’t usually ask them why they have chosen this profession but we try to tell them to have safe sex, that they should use a condom every time they have sex so that they prevent disease in themselves and their clients. We also have young sex worker peer educators reaching out to the young ones,” explained one of the CeSHHAR clinic workers that declined to be named.