28 April 2013

Zimbabwe: Poverty Drives Teenagers to Sell Sex At Murambinda Growth Point

Murambinda — An immaculate Jeep Cherokee belonging to an illegal diamond dealer grinds to a stop in front of a night club at the growth point.

Heavy duty trucks and long distance buses are also parked there, waiting in the dark. Behind these vehicles, young girls, some of them still attending secondary school in the area, are seen being picked up and driven away. Others are being dropped off.

The girls are taken to lodges around one of the country's vibrant growth points, Murambinda, where they engage in commercial sexual activities.

This is the scenario at Murambinda where the young girls are fleshing it out in order to raise money for school fees and food.

Despite various HIV and Aids awareness campaigns and sex education programmes, young school-going girls keep on joining the world's oldest profession.

Residents of the growth point fear that this will further fuel the HIV and Aids prevalence rate and moral decadence in the area.

Kenneth Masomere a senior resident said: "Most of the parents in this area are failing to stamp authority over their children who have taken centre stage in prostitution circles. It is poverty that has forced them to sell their bodies. They want to make money easily yet their health is at risk."

Outside Elasto Night Club, commercial sex workers like Netsai, who giggles while sipping her favourite brand of beer, have a sad story to tell.

"The money that I get from prostitution enables me to pay my school fees and those of my little sisters," she said.

Another teenage sex worker, Sandra, one of the many teenagers patronising Chani Bar, talked of how she ended up on the street with no education or money. She opted for the growth point's booming commercial sex trade out of desperation.

Sandra's mother, a fish vendor from Chapanduka in Buhera, sent her to Murambinda to try her luck at finding proper employment.

But unfortunately, a job did not come her way and the money splashed lavishly by the truck drivers and illegal panners baited her into prostitution.

Unfortunately, Netsai's and Sandra's are not isolated cases. Of the young prostitutes at Murambinda, the majority have fallen victim to sexual assault, physical and emotional violence.

"It is not uncommon for some of our clients to force us to have unprotected sex or even hit us, with the police not taking action," said Sandra.

Through beatings, insults and rape the young prostitutes at Murambinda live very tough lives. Rejected by their society and physical abused by their clients, the young prostitutes have found support from Zimbabwe Social and Cultural Development Association (ZSCDA), an NGO that seeks to create awareness, with respect to the rights of women, through advocacy and community programmes.

"Unfortunately the young sex workers have no value. For the population, they belong to an inferior group of people," says Stephen Makoni, ZSCDA programmes coordinator.

"This year we will be fighting against prejudice, while pushing the rights of women. Through awareness campaigns we will be educating the local community to respect sex workers, as well as their rights as women and fellow human beings. People know they have rights and that violence is punished by the July 20 2006 law," he said.

Following their findings, the NGO has organised a series of advocacy meetings at Murambinda growth point.

"We have reports of child prostitutes, who are raising money to pay school fees. We have engaged the ministry of education and other partners to assist the vulnerable groups," Makoni said.

He said ZSCDA was now working with other NGOs to raise schools fees for vulnerable children, especially the girl child in communities such as Buhera.

Although the government and various NGOs are embarking on various initiatives to address the issue, there is still much groundwork to be done to change attitudes.

Research has shown that at Murambinda growth point the commercial sex industry is increasingly organised, with children either being forced into prostitution, or exploited by their parents to earn income for their families.

The clients include workers from numerous non-governmental organisations operating in the area, who are well paid. Dealers, illegal diamond and gold panners , as well as truck drivers are also big clients of the young girls.

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