In 2016, the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children (ZNCWC) commissioned a research on young women in commercial sexual exploitation along two transport corridors in Zimbabwe.
BY Maxim Murungweni
The study looked at the causes, initiation prevalence and use of HIV and social services in 2016.
The research sought to establish the drivers, initiation prevalence and extent to which children engaged in sexual exploitation are accessing and utilising HIV and social services.
The research was supported by Progressio with funding from Comic Relief under the Amplifying the Voices of People Affected by HIV in Zimbabwe project — with a particular focus on advocating for children’s rights.
Two hundred and ninety-two participants were interviewed.
A literature review showed that, as is the case with most countries in Southern Africa, the magnitude of the problem of sexual exploitation of children in Zimbabwe cannot easily be quantified due to lack of adequate data and surveillance mechanisms.
The problem of sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) has increasingly become a major global concern.
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Young women, who sell sex (YWSS) in Southern Africa including Zimbabwe, are highly vulnerable to HIV, as the risks of being young and female in a high prevalence setting merge with those of commercial sex.
YWSS are less able to negotiate safe sex, more likely to have
higher-risk sexual partners, and less likely to use available health services compared to older sex workers.
The field research study showed the following key findings:
The magnitude of the problem of sexual exploitation of children in Zimbabwe cannot easily be quantified, due to lack of adequate data and surveillance mechanisms
18% of the respondents were below the age of 18
81,2% of the respondents dropped out of school because of lack of school fees
Push factors included: familial poverty (87,7%), breakdown of family unit (23,5%), gender-based violence (7,2%) and orphan-hood (23,8%), while others reported inherited sex work (that is following their mothers into the trade)
Pull factors included: peer pressure/introduced by friends and financial need
The majority (99%) of the young women selling sex in Zimbabwe reported that they were paid cash for providing their services
91,7% of the respondents demonstrated a high level of knowledge about HIV and Aids demonstrating awareness of their risk for infection and that correct and consistent condom use prevents transmission
More than two thirds (64,6%) of young women reported starting selling sex below the age of 18
84,6% reported that accessibility and availability of HIV services was easy
Recommendations on key advocacy issues
context-specific guidelines and models on the re-integration of young women selling sex into their families and communities in Zimbabwe.
Develop alternative means of livelihoods for child victims and their families to prevent further commercial sexual exploitation
Initiate interventions that reduce the susceptibility to HIV for girls newly-entering sex work
Develop an early identification response system and recruit and deploy a well-trained cadre of youth peer educators
Increased access to basic education and keeping girls in schools is needed
Strengthen public and targeted information campaigns to target the demand side, the sex exploiters
More operational research and information gathering and evidence generation is required on sexual exploitation of children in Zimbabwe.
What has been done so far beyond the research?
Strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts
In carrying out the research, ZNCWC partnered with key stakeholders such as the National Aids Council (NAC), the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry, National Employment Council for the Transport Operating Industry, district administrators and District Aids Committees and the National Non-governmental Organisation (Nango).
This was done to ensure that the campaign is all-inclusive to ensure sustainability and wider reach, since the commercial sexual exploitation of children is a complex phenomenon that requires a multi-sector, multi-stakeholder local to global approach.
ZNCWC also became a member of the global network known as End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).
This resulted in ECPAT supporting ZNCWC in collaboration with the Tourism and Hospitality Industry ministry in Zimbabwe launching a sub-Saharan Africa Regional Report of a Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism.
The report was launched in Harare by Tourism minister Walter Mzembi in his capacity as the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) regional commission for Africa chairperson and the African Union candidate for the UNWTO secretary general position.
The launch was followed up by a regional conference on sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (SECTT) held in South Africa in June, which saw Mzembi calling for an all Africa meeting or conference on sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, which Zimbabwe is willing to host before the end of year 2017.
ZNCWC has also engaged both the print and electronic media to raise awareness and key advocacy issues on sexual exploitation of children.
A research findings dissemination meeting with the media was conducted and this resulted in increased coverage of the issue in both print and electronic media and has helped draw the attention of other stakeholders, development partners and responsible authorities to pay attention to the issue.
ZNCWC, in partnership with Nango under the Non-State Actors Alliance capacity strengthening programme is making sure that the advocacy campaign on ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children reaches across all the sectors involved in the project.
ZNCWC in collaboration with other partners has planned to carry out the following activities so as to step up the campaign on ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children in all sectors.
Development of policy papers on commercial sexual exploitation of children for engagement with policy makers
Training and capacity building of journalists on advocacy issues on commercial sexual exploitation of children
Sponsoring an award on the Best Media Reporter on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of children at the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists National Journalist and Merit Award (Njama) 2017
Publication of press statements and articles on advocacy issues on commercial sexual exploitation of children
Building strategic partnerships with more development partners, stakeholders
Holding an all Africa meeting on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism
Training of NECTOI site agents on children’s rights
Referral and signposting of children involved in commercial sexual exploitation to support services
Publication and wide distribution of the research findings on commercial sexual exploitation of children
Engagement meetings and advocacy lobbying with policy makers (MPs, government ministries) on advocacy issues on commercial sexual exploitation
Development of key child-friendly advocacy and IEC material on commercial sexual exploitation of children
Supporting junior councillors and junior parliamentarians’ child rights advocacy and child participation activities and engagement with senior parliamentarians on commercial sexual exploitation of children
Engagement of debates amongst junior parliamentarians on commercial sexual exploitation of children.
While the problem of young women involved in commercial sexual exploitation is as immense as ever, there is an opportunity to tackle this problem collectively across all sectors in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.
Now, more than ever, the increasing measures to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children in all sectors (travel and tourism, transport industry, mining industry etc) needs to be energised, equipped, encouraged, funded and inspired in Zimbabwe.
Together, we can end the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Zimbabwe and at the same time meaningfully contribute to the global commitment of ending Aids by 2030 through smart partnerships.