By Karen Mangwiro
Antagonistic life experiences such as divorce or death of parents or caregivers, neglect and abuse by families and extended family members as well as peer pressure can leave the girl child vulnerable to various forms of self-destructive behaviour such as promiscuity among other negative behaviours. At times the girl child tries to solve the emotional pain she holds.
General family problems such as broken homes, death of parents when the children are still young and the absence of a reliable guardian to care for them are the main contributing factors towards child prostitution.
Child prostitution has become extensive and this is liable to the country’s calamitous economic condition along with the destruction of the social structure. The number of child headed families in Hopley has dramatically increased leaving the girl child exposed to dreadful acts to provide for her siblings.
Children engage in prostitution to secure essentials such as food and shelter. Majority of the girls are said to have become willing victims of sex work because they had very few options for survival after becoming orphans or because of having run away from poverty stricken homes. As is often the case, children are particularly at risk in such a harsh environment.
However, the cost of living in urban areas is high as accommodation is rented, commuter transport around towns and cities is paid for and leisure pursuits require some money unlike in rural areas where rented accommodation is rare, walking to different destinations is normal and leisure activities are generally free. The social environment of the urban centres is competitive and as such it puts pressure and burdens on the inhabitants including orphans and vulnerable children who then becomes prone to distress arising from the demands of urban life.
Generally, the profile of victims and perpetrators of child prostitution are the same throughout the country with victims being children from very poor backgrounds and perpetrators being the rich local nationals like civil servants, politicians and businessmen and unfortunately many of them are under extremely hazardous conditions like having STDs and HIV and AIDs. The young girls do so for little or no pay while missing out on a decent living.
“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 girls in Hopley who parade themselves at famous drinking spot, Kwa Antony, in search of customers willing to pay the price for an hour or two of sex. Most of them however are as young as nine years.
“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,” lamented one of the girls
Given the challenges faced by the girl child in society, including high rates of divorce or death and family disintegration, the AIDS pandemic, abuse and neglect as well as social pressures can lead to a pessimistic attitude to life in general. One predominantly upsetting outcome of such pessimism is the dramatic increase in child prostitution in the country with young females being victims.
The vulnerability of the girl child is a collective responsibility. It is with keen interest that young people investigate these cases and raise awareness for collective effort towards fighting against child prostitution. Policies are there that criminalize those who sexually engage with minors but it takes a society that is protective and aware of their mandate to protect each other so that the girl child is safe.
This article originally appeared on Organising4Zimbabwe. Karen Mangwiro is a BA (Hon) Development Studies student at Great Zimbabwe University and is currently working as an intern at O4Z Trust. She writes in her own capacity