A recent media tour of Matabeleland North, organised by the National Aids Council, revealed that children as young as 12 years of age are engaged in the world’s oldest profession in both Victoria Falls and the nearby mining town of Hwange.
The teenagers have become part and parcel of commercial sex workers (CSW), making a living out of selling their bodies.
The term “sex worker” refers to a wide array of people who sell sex and who work in a variety of environments.
They may include women, young girls, men and transgender people, working either full time or part time, in brothels, bars, on the streets or from home.
Chairperson for the group of CSWs in Victoria Falls, Doreen Tshungulu (47), who has worked as a commercial sex worker for over 15 years, confirmed that their group now comprised young girls.
“We now have girls as young as 12 years old being engaged as commercial sex workers,” she said. “Most of them live in groups in rented houses in town and they often go out in groups in search of clients.”
Tshungulu said the young girls were finding the trade lucrative and they mostly targeted foreigners who visit the resort town.
“It is difficult for us who have been in the profession longer to talk these young girls out of prostitution, because they will tell you that the business is lucrative and they are making a living out of it,” she said. “Most of these children target foreigners and white men who visit the resort town.”
NewsDay however failed to get hold of one of the young girls, as Tshungulu said they were out of town, looking for clients in Hwange — about 100km from Victoria-Falls. These girls get their clients from anywhere — on the streets, in bars or even at funerals.
Tshungulu said most of these girls come from rural areas.
“When these girls arrive in town, they are referred to us. Most of them are orphans from the rural areas and have decided to become CSW to make a living,” she said.
“However, there are some who come from well-to-do families, but still engage in prostitution.”
The chairperson also confirmed that with the increased number of children engaged as commercial sex workers, trying to fight the spread of HIV had become like chasing the wind.
“As much as we try to encourage these girls to use condoms during sex, the advice has been met with resistance due to certain challenges,” she said. “The major challenge is that sometimes one can get a client who will offer you a lot of money to have sex with him without protection and obviously with that kind of money, one can actually risk contracting HIV.”
Tshungulu added that the other challenge was that most married men did not want to use protection when engaging in sex with these young girls.
“Most married men refuse to use protection with these young girls. These men tell these young girls that they are not used to condoms since they have wives, and for a good fee, they engage in sex without protection,” she said.
In Victoria Falls and Hwange, charges for “short time” sex, which is about 10 to 15 minutes, range between $10 and $15.
Soliciting for the purposes of prostitution is illegal in many countries, and it is a practice frequently common and driven by widespread poverty in many sub-Saharan African countries and is one of the drivers for the prevalence of HIV and Aids on the continent.
Social breakdown caused by civil war or economic collapse in most African countries has escalated the rate of prostitution.
Transactional sexual relationships are also particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa, where they often involve relationships between older men and young girls
In many cases, the woman in a transactional sexual relationship may remain faithful to her boyfriend, while he may have multiple sexual partners.
In other cases, the woman may have multiple partners. In both of these cases, transactional sex presents an increased risk of HIV infection.
As a result, transactional sex is a factor involved in the spread of HIV and Aids in Africa. Tshungulu, whose husband passed away several years back, has five children, among them two daughters.
NewsDay spoke to a new recruit in the CSW group, Christine Moyo (38). “I am quite new in the profession. I joined recently after my husband left me for another woman and getting into the business was a stress reliever,” she said.
Both women have daughters, who they wish never to get engaged in prostitution.
“I have three daughters and it would break my heart if they became prostitutes. It is not an easy profession,” said Moyo.
“However, I try by all means to make sure that they get good education . I am raising my children using proceeds from this trade.”