FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Tadiwanashe Mlambo (not real name) sneaks out of her bedroom through the window every evening from Thursday to Saturday to attend musical shows and gigs at a nearby night club in the Old West suburb — widely referred to as Mahalape — in Penhalonga.
For Tadiwanashe, who lives with her younger siblings and a domestic worker as her parents are working in South Africa, this has been the norm for the past six months.
“On a good day, I cash in around US$70 to US$100 from sex work, especially when local gold panners have money. I charge US$5 to US$10 per session and the clients here are ready to pay. l have instances where some clients refuse to pay after l would have rendered my services, but that does not happen often.
“Some pretend to be caring and trustworthy and shift goalposts after they get what they want. In order to avoid that, l ask for the cash upfront. My siblings and our domestic worker are in the dark about my shenanigans,” she said.
Tadiwa conceded that at times she goes home empty-handed.
While this may sound strange and farfetched, sex work among teenagers is now prevalent, especially in gold panning areas such as Penhalonga and Odzi.
A survey conducted by The Manica Post around Penhalonga’s public spaces revealed that teens from areas as far as Chipinge, Harare, Marondera, Rusape and Mutare are frequenting the area.
Clad in skimpy skirts and dresses, girls as young as 13 visit the beerhalls and sprouting night clubs in Penhalonga.
One after the other, they are picked by sex pervets, often for a backyard quickie.
Another teenager, Kimberly Mpofu (not real name) from Mutare’s Chikanga suburb, said: “My father is late and I stay with my mother who is a cross-border trader. I go to school, but I cannot divulge the name of the school.
“I have a boyfriend at school and he does not know that I am into this business.
“This is the only way I can buy the things that I want, which my mother cannot provide for me as she is focusing on paying my school fees and putting food on our table. I usually come here when my mother is not around.
“I was invited by a friend who is in her 30s and we do sex work here together,” said Kimberly.
To their credit, most of those who were interviewed said they are strict on condom usage.
According to UNAIDS, in 2018 about a third of all new HIV infections in Zimbabweans were in the younger age cohort (15-24 years old).
In that year, UNAIDS reported 9 000 new HIV infections among young women, more than double the number of new infections among young men (4 200).
Of note, an emerging group of older women – pimps in their own right – admitted to making a killing from trading out underage girls for sex; with some saying they were making US$50 to US$65 on a good day.
“I have three girls under my control. Two of them are from Mutare and the other one is from Rusape. They help me make ends meet since I am no longer as attractive as I was at their age. I also went through the same when I ventured into this trade. I can be paid US$50 to US$60 on a good day,” said one pimp who declined to be named.
In another disturbing development, Zimbabwe has recorded an increase in commercial sex workers, with Harare identified as the biggest red-light district.
This is according to a new survey conducted by the National Aids Council (NAC), the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network.
In the report titled ‘‘Zimbabwe’s situational analysis of drug use and injection in five provinces’’ to form HIV and TB programming for people who use drugs, NAC and its partners noted that: “In Harare, the most often mentioned source of income is sex work (36,07 percent). The higher rate in this province is linked to the mobilisation strategy, which include recruitment of respondents in an area where sex work takes place.”
According to another research done by UNICEF, adolescent girls and young women are twice as likely to contract HIV than their male counterparts.
Unfortunately, only 26 percent of that population has access to HIV prevention programmes.
The report noted that stigma prevents adolescents from accessing HIV sexual reproductive health services and there is limited space for their meaningful participation in decision making.
Their views are seldom heard.
Under Zimbabwean law, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 18.
This makes it criminal for anyone to have a sexual relationship with a minor.
This means that even if a girl or boy who is below 18 consents to engage in a sexual act, the other person is still guilty of statutory rape and it is no defence that the girl or boy consented.
The maximum sentence for statutory rape is imprisonment for up to 10 years.