'Sex workers lack alternative'

MUTARE - Inspecting a parade of scantily dressed sex merchants lining a booking house in Mutare’s city centre, my attention is drawn to excited shouts from three young boys further up D Avenue.

They are reacting to the shock of realising that their daytime playmate is a commercial sex worker on the side.

Shorty, as she is known to the boys, hurriedly walks away from the harassing taunts of her disappointed friends. She looks 14, at most 15.

This could just be a glimpse into an underground sexual racket of young girls in this eastern border city where industry has collapsed and unemployment is high.

The City of Mutare Health Department says it has busted several child prostitution rings in the course of a commercial sex workers peer education programme but the issue has been pushed underground, said acting medical health director Simon Mashavave in an interview recently.

He noted the current criminalisation of this age-old profession made it more difficult to regulate as well as protect children who may be used as sex slaves and also cannot be equipped with information on how they can find an alternative to make a living.

Sibongile Mtetwa, a coordinator for a Zimbabwe Aids Prevention Project — University of Zimbabwe (ZAPP-UZ) CSW programme running across the country, said less than 10 child prostitutes were in their records because of the clandestine nature of the trade, especially where it involved young girls.

A street vendor who makes a living selling condoms outside nightclubs said no less than seven underage girls operated around “his corner”, even freely walking into the nightclub which should restrict entry to persons above 18.

But the young boys, two of whom have visually impaired parents who live in the street and one of whom is an orphan staying with an aunt at Sakubva Bus Terminus, influence CSW business on this block.

While prostitution has been rampant since the Chiadzwa diamond rush back in 2007, sexually transmitted infections had been under control going as low as fewer than 200 in council clinics but 2011 alone recorded 4 462 cases while the first three months of 2012 had 1 182 cases, said Mashavave.

Mashavave said dollarisation meant people had disposable income which continues to sustain the illicit trade in sex.

He said while their programme equipped commercial sex workers with information and life skills to manage the risk, there was another programme that sought to give commercial sex workers an alternative means of earning a living. - Bernard Chiketo

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