Long Distance Exposes Bikita School Girls To Sugar Daddies And Unintended Pregnancies

HAZEL Tarungamiswa (17), a form 3 student at Rupare High School in Bikita walks 18 Kilometers to and from her village every day to attend school.

By Michael Gwarisa in Bikita

Every morning, she has to clean the plates and sweep the yard amongst other household chores before leaving for school. This has however resulted in her arriving late at school some days. To avoid getting late at school and getting caned for doings so, most girls end up catching free rides from strangers, in the process exposing themselves to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Hazel says she has seen a number of her friends falling for the men and sometimes ending up pregnant and droping out of school. Some have even gone into polygamous marriages just because they failed to resist the lure of cash and free rides. She blames it all on the Highway that Links Masvingo and Manicaland which is usually used by locals as well as truckers transporting horticulture and other farming produce. The road has also become a fertile hunting ground for Artisanal miners who have also invaded the once peaceful rural community of Bikita.

This road is not good at all for school girls. From where I stay, I walk 9 Kilometres everyday to come to school and another 9 Km going back home. This is the rural areas and everyday before we leave for school, we have to do some household chores such as cleaning the plates and sweeping the yard.

“However, this may at times eat into your time to prepare for school and in most cases girls my age are always running late. Corporal punishment is still permissible in these parts and if  you are late, you risk getting a beating from any teacher who will be on duty. To avoid getting beaten or punished, if you are offered a lift with a stranger, you can’t refuse and that is where the problem starts,” said Hazel.

She says most of the drivers who offer lists to young girls are those driving top of the range vehicles and many girls have fallen into the trap and have had their lives disrupted in the process.

According to Carlton Gatsi, the District AIDS Coordinator (DAC) for Bikita district, even though Bikita province has the lowest HIV prevalence in Masvingo province, available data shows that a number of young school girls are engaging in sex early and it all points to the Highway.

“We have artisanal miners now in the area and the highway is a major contributor to new infections and teenage pregnancies. We were analyzing data of the young girls who fell pregnant and I can tell you it’s a terrible picture.

“Bikita is termed a low burden district and it has the lowest HIV prevalence in Masvingo province. The prevalence is at 10.1% but on this background, even though it has a low prevalence, the incidence and also issues of Antiretroviral (ART) uptake is not pleasing. Though we have a low prevalence of HIV, the uptake of ART is still very low in the district. The uptake is still at 65-69% which is short of the 95% target that we are trying to achieve as a nation,” said Gatsi.

The HIV incidence (new infections) is at 0.2% in Bikita which is quite high as compared to other districts and the major drivers of new infections in the district are low risk perception and inter-generational sex.

“We see that we still have people who believe they can not get infected with HIV. We also note that after the Cyclone there has been a lot of inter-generational sex and a lot of young girls have been impregnated by people who are not within their age group.

“The other driver is sex work; we still have quite a number of sex work activities in the district especially along the high ways. The other issues is the issue of artisanal miners. We are having a number of these now and they are also contributing to new infections. When they get the gold, they lure young girls into sex.”

The National AIDS Council in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have partnered local traditional leaders and community members to empower young people to resist and fight abuse and exploitation during disaster times such as the prevailing COVID-19 lockdown and Cyclone periods.

Headman Tototai Tambara of Bikita said the number of early unintended pregnancies had spiked during the lockdown period and several girls had dropped out of school.

“We are grateful about the program that has been brought by NAC and UNICEF in this community. We are now free to discuss sensitive issues with our young ones and this I believe will help address the various challenges such as HIV and AIDS, early pregnancies and other diseases.

“Here in Bikita, at our village courts, we have been dealing with high cases of teenage pregnancies and early marriages. Many girls especially during the lockdown period could not go back to school, they dropped out because they had fallen pregnant or had married. We are also facing increased rape cases among these young girls,” said Headman Tambara

 

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