Friday, 9 May 2014

Hardships driving teenagers into prostitution

By Byron Mutingwende
The teenage girls form a circle on the stage as they gyrate to music emanating from titanic loudspeakers fixed on all corners of the packed nightclub in Harare’s Central Business District. Pot-bellied men circle around the girls like a swarm of bees with wide smiles on their faces, gulping alcohol in the process.

The scantily dressed teenagers – wearing pairs of shorts and bras are touching the ground with their hands, their bums in the air as they swerve from side to side in sync with Emmanuel Manyeruke aka Guspy Warrior’s Seunononga song that has sent shockwaves on the local music scene.

This is a daily routine for the young girls who have to move from one bar or nightspot to the next, practicing some raunchy dances in exchange for a few dollars.

“The dances are tiresome. We have to sweat on the stage and pretend to be drunk and do the dances that we rehearse on over and over again before nightfall. That’s how we have to put food on the table for our siblings because most of us are orphans from child-headed families,” explains Sibongile, the lead dancer, tears in her eyes.
Economic hardships driving teenage girls into commercial sex work
Calling themselves “The Raw Nerve Dance Group”, the group consists of teenagers from as young as 13-years old who gang up to form syndicates to survive from dancing and commercial sex.

“We just met in the pubs as we were courting potential clients for sex. Some are from Harare, Shurugwi, Gokwe and others come from as far as Chipinge. Our purpose is one – we need to make money through selling our bodies and raunchy dances for survival,” Sibongile adds.

It is almost midnight and the girls are visibly tired from dancing. They have sweated profusely and are preparing to take some showers at the nightclub. They say it is time they need to freshen up and attract male clients who will pay them in exchange for sex.

Michelle – Sibongile’s friend says their clients are from all age groups but they prefer older men “who have worked for long and pay much better compared to their younger counterparts.”

In Rimuka Township, Kadoma, scores of young girls can be seen milling around bars and nightclubs by nightfall. Most of them wear heavy makeup and strong body deodorants. A group of five teenage girls makes a single file into a nightclub. Unlike men, they are not charged entry fee by the bouncer on the door.

“These are our cash cows chief. If the bar is not visited by these girls business will be very low. Men buy more beer to impress and court sexual favours from these girls. Without them we could have closed this bar a long time ago. These girls are also experts in pole dancing and strip teasing. They are part of business and patrons love their dances,” explained the doorman.

Social commentator Douglas Chivandire said the practice by owners of the bars and nightspots where they exploit the young girls and women for economic gain was tantamount to modern day slavery. He called on authorities like Zimbabwe Republic Police to arrest the “clandestine businessmen” and embark on operations to flush out the teenagers from the nightspots.

“Government must at best try to rehabilitate such youngsters. The best way will be to counsel them and then offer vocational training on knitting, sewing or even offering them loans to start up small projects,” Chivandire said.

The teenagers are very young and supposed to be in school but all of them insisted that economic hardships had forced them to drop out. They added that they were vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis as well as the HIV virus that causes the deadly AIDS.

“It’s unfortunate that most of our friends died before they reached their 20th birthday due to complications arising mainly from the HIV virus complications. If we had money, we would have stayed in school. However, due to poverty we are forced into such lifestyles which can still come back to kill us,” Michelle added.

Primary and secondary education minister, Lazarus Dokora appealed for funding of the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM). The programme assists primary and secondary level students – mostly vulnerable and orphaned, through paying school fees and levies including examination fees for six Ordinary Level subjects and all three subjects for Advanced Level examination fees. In some instances schools that receive the BEAM funds build or repair classrooms and buy office furniture.

The Education Transition Fund spearheaded by UNICEF sought to supply each schoolchild with textbooks. In 2011, about 13 million textbooks were delivered to Zimbabwe’s primary schools.

Analysts say poverty and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights will jeopardize students’ chances to pursue education further.

A survey on sexual and reproductive health on girls and young women and boys revealed startling statistics calling for action on the part of the government and other stakeholders.

The Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS, 2010-2011) says 15% of young women who had sexual intercourse in the year preceding the survey, had sex with a man 10 or more years older.

Similarly, young men age 15-19 who reported that they had a sexual partner in the past 12 months were asked the age of the partner. Less than 1% reported having a partner 10 or more years older. As a result young women are more vulnerable and at risk of intergenerational relationships as opposed to young men.

Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Services (SAfAIDS) runs a television programme on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Television (ZBC-TV) at which experts and youths share information with audiences on how to tackle issues on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

“Numerous topics related to SRHR have been discussed under the Young4Real programme. These have included sexual abuse, teenage pregnancies, intergenerational relationships, peer pressure, sexuality and disability, social networking, sexual violence, albinism and sexuality, sanitary wear, multiple concurrent partnerships, early sexual debut and date rape among others.

“The topics covered highlighted factors that make youth unable to access services and the challenges that they face as young people. Stemming from the topics covered in 2011 and 2012, SAfAIDS started the Young People’s Information and Services Advocacy (YPISA) teams model and the Madhara Kwete Campaign,” said Renias Mundingi, SAfAIDS SRHR Programme Officer.

Mundingi said YPISA teams are designed to provide information and services to young people at community level. Each team is expected to play many roles including advocacy, awareness raising, peer to peer counseling, referrals and formation of listening clubs as ways of disseminating SRHR information among peers.

Women activists argue that having sexual intercourse with teenagers in pubs and nightclubs was tantamount to rape. Virginia Muwanigwa, chairperson of the Women’s Coalition, urged the government to do everything in its power to meet the socio-economic needs of the people of Zimbabwe, especially women and girls as poverty predisposes them to sexual exploitation and rape.

Muwanigwa said she was concerned about women and girls’ low socio-economic status that exacerbates their vulnerability to all forms of abuse, including sexual exploitation. She further called for equality and equity among men and women with regards to access to education, health and protection from abuse.

According to the constitution of Zimbabwe, a child below 18 does not have the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse.

“However there has not been a single case whereby men who take young girls and women from bars and nightclubs and have sexual intercourse with them have been arrested. In this regard, as Women’s Coalition, we urge the judiciary to consider stiff custodial sentences on anyone who has sexual intercourse with a minor in light of the unprecedented cases of rape targeted at women and children,” Muwanigwa charged.

Maria Chiwera from Women’s Action Group said that the judiciary should outline a clear schedule of sentences for rape and other sexual abuse. This could be achieved by setting a minimum and maximum sentence for sexual offenders depending on the gravity of the crimes committed, she said.

Chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice, legal and parliamentary affairs, Jessie Majome proposed a motion for government to have stiffer sentences on offenders for rape and other forms of gender violence.

She called on Parliament to amend the Criminal Codification and Reform, Magistrates Court, Victim Friendly Court, Criminal Procedure & Evidence, Termination of Pregnancy, Marriage and Customary Marriage Acts.

“This will give effect to the necessary changes that will set stiffer sentences for offenders, prevent GBV and provide support for survivors. It should not forget that there is need to equip police stations with rape kits, and ensure scientific forensic investigation of rape which includes DNA testing. All this would be part of the action plan that I am pushing for that would cause the systematic implementation of the National Gender Based Strategy 2012-2015.”

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