Sexual Exploitation Exposes Zim’s Young Sex Workers Living With HIV To HIV Reinfection

SEX work has been on the increase in Zimbabwe, and for close to two decades due to a myriad of factors, chief among them being economic induced hardships, lack of employment opportunities and growing poverty levels, sex work has becoming the low hanging option for women and girls. Unlike in the old days when sex work used to be a preserve for adult women of consenting age, a growing number of adolescent girls in Peri-urban and farming communities in Zimbabwe are taking up sex work to survive.

By Patricia Mashiri

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the increase in intergenerational sex  and transactional sex will likely push the HIV and AIDS burden higher in girls and young women and there is need to come up with lasting solutions to avoid the crises.  According to 2019 UNAIDS statics, Zimbabwe was ranked third highest in the SADC region in terms of the number of women and girls living with HIV.

For young sex workers living with HIV from Peri-urban and other marginalized communities in Zimbabwe, the risk of HIV reinfection is very high since most of them cannot negotiate for safe and protected sex with their clients. HIV reinfection or SuperAIDS is a condition in which a person with an established human immunodeficiency virus infection acquires a second strain of HIV, often of a different subtype.

Jane (19) (not real name) a young sex worker from Hopely said the risk for young sex workers is high as they experience violence and exploitation at the hands of male clients and older sex workers.

I’m an orphan and i was born HIV positive. When my both parents died, I started living with my grandmother who was also sick, none my relatives wanted to stay with me because I was sick. My grandmother also passed away when I was 14 and I was left with no one to take care of me. My friends took me in and it was now the four of us living in one room. The person who took me in was a sex worker that’s how she survived,” said Jane.

However, as is the norm, as older sex workers who would have been in the game for while near retirement, they usually act as Pimps where they recruit younger sex workers whom they can rent out or pimp to clients, taking a percentage of their earnings in return.

“She introduced me to sex work but didn’t tell me that we need to protect ourselves and negotiate for safe sex with the clients. Few days later I got sexual transmitted infection and my friend took me to Centre for Sexual Health and HIV AIDS Research (CESHAR) where I was treated. I later discovered that I was pregnant because I was not protecting myself.”

Betty, (not real name) said she started living on the streets after her grandmother passed away and there was no one to take care of her hence she entered into sex work.

“I met some girls from Hopely when I was living in the streets, they told me and my friend that there was cheaper accommodation in Hopely and they were ready to take us in.We moved to Hopely and we started living with the girls. It was the seven of us living under one roof. These girls introduced us to sex work as it was their only source of income. It was hard for us to adjust to that situation but because of poverty we had to comply.

“The only problem was that these girls didn’t tell us to protect ourselves. When you are a sex worker, it’s hard to negotiate for safe sex with the clients especially when you are young. I discovered that I was pregnant and at the same time HIV positive when I had an sexually transmitted infection and went to the clinic for treatment. I don’t know who was responsible but I think it was one of my clients who offered me a lot money for my services,” said Betty.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Young Positives (ZY+) a youth led network that advocates for the needs of Adolescents and Young People Living with HIV(A& YPLHIV) with support from Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa(ARASA) bemoaned how sexual exploitation in communities is affecting the young people especially those who sell sex for a living.

Speaking at the Day of the African Media Engagement,Chido Katsiga, the ZY+ Communications and Advocacy Assistant said engaging into transactional sex with minor should be treated as sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Although we might not have statistics of children who are sexually exploited in Zimbabwe, the reality is that it is happening, and we have heard of children indulging into sex work at the age of 12. Most of these children are not voluntarily getting into these sexual violations but rather are pushed by circumstances which include economic factors like poverty, and harmful religious practices such as prophetic dreams(kurotswa) and cultural and chiramu.

“ZY+ calls to action line ministries and relevant stakeholders to protect children from violence,exploitation,neglect and abuse and to provide social protection initiatives to ensure that children enjoy their childhood and are protected from the latter. Acceleration of agenda 2040 for an African fit for children demands solidarity and unit of purpose in shaping a society that respects the rights of children,”  said Katsiga.

She added that  the ZY+ has been actively involved in ensuring that children enjoy their rights to bodily autonomy through assertiveness training, mentorship sessions, awareness campaigns to educate them about their Sexual Reproductive Health Rights(SRHR). Bodily autonomy gives women and girls the right access reproductive health services like PrEP, PEP and counselling may help in reducing the risk of being HIV infected and ,mental challenges.

The ZY+ has been holding a serieus of commemoration to mark the Day of the African Child with the aim of teaching young people on issues to do the with their Sexual Reproductive Health, Bodily autonomy amongst a hots of other issues affecting young people living with HIV.

 

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