Economic woes give rise to child prostitution

THE story of Epworth, Hopley, Caledonia and other peri-urban areas surrounding Harare is of child sex-workers, where 12-year-olds are now performing the work of sex peddlers in order to feed their families should send shock waves around the world and instill fear into the hearts of those in the corridors of power.

Zimbabwe’s economic challenges have forced young girls to join the ranks of the world’s oldest profession as they thrive to survive and feed their families.

“We are into prostitution not because we like it; the circumstances have forced us to do this.  We want to feed our families. I stay with my grandmother who is in her 80’s and can no longer work to feed us,” said a 13 year old girl from Caledonia

 Almost 4.2 percent of children involved in prostitution in the country are HIV positive, which worryingly is not the only sexually transmitted disease they are at risk of getting. A greater proportion of those do not have access to contraceptives, further putting them at risk of early, unwanted pregnancies.

“Kakawanda totitabvumirana kuti vapfeke (macondom) vanozoramba taenda kumba votoita kakubatachibharo. Apa munhu asina kupfeka. Pakuenda atichatoshamisiki nekuramba kwevamwe vavo kubhadhara,” said a one 13-year-old child-prostitute from Epworth (name withheld).

(Most of the time we agree with our clients that they put on  condoms but whenever we get to our lodgings, they end up refusing and forcibly have intercourse with us without protection. It is not unusual for them to refuse to pay us after that).

Zimbabwe’s teenage fertility rate is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Issues such as these have been pushing fertility figures high each year.

Mbare is also in a similar position, with areas such as kuMagaba being known for the proliferation of child sex-workers, with nothing being done to lessen the predicament of children which obviously emanates from the current economic challenges.

KuMagaba tinonochirova chevana neZWL10 wangu, pasina kan“a police mukati. Kungonoita zvinhu zvako muzvitangwena, wapedza wotongobaya,” said one elderly man from Mbare who requested anonymity.

(Whenever we go kuMagaba, we can hire these young girls for as little as ZWL10, without any fear of the police. You just go there and are given a shack in which to do your business, then leave).

 Terrence Mahumbike, a counsellor, blamed those who exploit sex from the minors.

“It is us who have lost the culture of caring for each and every child as your own who are to blame for turning these same children into easy sources of sexual pleasure. They are not to blame; to them, that is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. We judge them by their poor decisions; they are children and are bound to do that. We are adults and should be responsible.” Mahumbike said.

“It is high time that legislators, non-governmental and human rights organisations prioritise these children. Epworth, Mbare and Hopley are microcosms. Mining towns across the country are worse off, and we are to blame for failing to save these babies from a predicament they can never face alone,” Mahumbike added.

In 2017, government, after an aggressive #GirlsNotBrides campaign, raised the legal age of marriage to 18. The decision is not consistent with the country’s stipulated age of sexual consent which stands at 16.

The Ethiopian government introduced free schooling for girls involved in its red-light zones, which was instrumental in reducing sex work as more and more girls got better opportunities and dumped the profession.