FOR 18-year-old Mercy (not real name), life took a twist soon after completing her Ordinary Level studies in 2018 in Chivhu. Having bagged 10 ‘O’ level subjects including Mathematics, English, and science subjects, Mercy enrolled for Advanced level at the same school she did her ‘O’ levels.
By Michael Gwarisa
After government announced closure of schools in March following confirmation of COVID-19 in the country, Mercy moved to Harare to live with her unemployed sister with the aim of raising fees for her final term as well as enroll for extra lessons so as to keep abreast with her academic side since she will be writing her final ‘A’ Level exams later this year.
However, the lockdown has not been merciful as it has also left her sister struggling to bring food on the table, let alone pay for her extra lessons. Her mother who is also her only reliable source of income survives from vending and of late, business has been bad owing to the prevailing economic crises coupled with the COVID-19 induced hardships.
Faced with the predicament of not complementing her studies, furthering her studies and starving to death, Mercy has found herself between a rock and hard place as she has unwillingly ventured into sex work despite all the risks associated with the trade.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Mercy said her only wish was to get assistance or a benefactor who could assist with paying her fees as she now fears for her life as most of her clients demand unprotected sex and physically abuse her if she demands payment for services rendered.
I am from Chivhu but these days I live with my sister here in Harare. My mother’s vending business has been bad, she can no longer afford to pay for my fees. Even food, she can’t afford to feed us. I was left with no option, I wanted money for food, school fees and to raise money for University as well.
“The only easy option I found was to get into sex work since almost every other avenue seem to have been closed by the coronavirus. I will be writing my final examinations this year and I am optimistic that I am going to pass. I also want to go for extra lessons since I am towards writing my final examinations this year and unfortunately, I have no one to assist me financially at the moment,” said Mercy.
She said she needs help the most on her education side since her mother’s business has literally crumbled. She is hopeful that come exams time, she will pass and proceed to University but the financial woes currently bedevilling her could derail her plans if help doesn’t come her way soon.
In Chivhu, Mercy lives with her cousin brothers who are always complaining that her mother never sends enough money to sustain them and she should find something to do to bring money into the house.
“When I came to Harare, my cousin brothers told me that I should not return home empty handed, I have to at least bring some money and food home since they say I have become excess baggage and an extra mouth to feed in the house. The problem now is that my sister is also unemployed and my mother’s business is not bringing any meaningful money.
[pullquote]“My sister is unemployed and can’t afford to get me the money to return home with yet my brothers were very clear that I should not come home empty handed. The only thing I had to do was sale my body so that I return home with something. It is also difficult to stay with my sister, I would be burdening her so I have to return to Chivhu soon.[/pullquote]”
She plans to return to Chivhu on September 16. She says her first term fees were pegged at ZW$1210 but the new fees structure for the final term has not been shared as yet.
Speaking on the challenges she is facing, Mercy said she feared getting infected with HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the process as some of her clients demand unsafe sex.
“The challenge I am facing is that some clients were refusing to use protection and would have unprotected sex with me. After servicing them, some would refuse to pay and it was hard and very risky for me. My wish is to go to University next year and I wish to go and study Biotechnology or Biochemistry and I would wish to study abroad if I get a scholarship. I have had HIV tests done and so far, the last result I had was a negative and for that I am glad.”
According to a survey conducted by Plan International Zimbabwe (PIZ), more girls than boys have during the lockdown period indulged in sex and this could pose a risk of increased STI, HIV and unintended pregnancies.
The online survey which was conducted by PIZ targeted adolescents aged 7 to 17 years and aimed to show results of sexual activities amongst adolescent boys and girls aged 13 to 17 years. The sample was taken across the country’s 10 provinces and the sample size was 11, 674 boys and girls.
According to the Survey, 5109 girls against 3217 boys engaged in sex during the period under review bringing the total to 8326. Of the 8326, 2186 girls engaged in safe sex while 986 boys also engaged in safe sex bringing the total to 3172 of adolescent who had protected sex during the period. However, 2361 girls said they had unprotected sex during the period under review whereas 1933 boys also confessed to having unsafe sex.
50% of the boys and girls who were interviewed of those 11, 674 had sex by April this year. Of that 50%, 62% were girls. Only 38% of the adolescent girls engaged in safe sex and of those who engaged in safe sex, only 42% of the girls had safe sex at least according to their reports. 6% of the girls who responded to that survey gave an anonymous answer on the question of sexual activity.
Those who may want to contact Mercy can contact the HealthTimes Editor on 0776 280 754, or call the HealthTimes landline on +263 86644 289 599: