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A 15-Year-Old's Story of Prostitution
Poverty and cynicism in Harare, Zimbabwe keep young women from escaping
Nelson G. Katsande (NELKA)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-15 11:36 (KST)   
I decide to go undercover on the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, with a mission of exploring the causes and dangers associated with prostitution. My investigation was prompted by reports regarding young girls being sexually exploited by older married men. Called "sugar daddies," they shower the young girls with presents and money in return for sex.

Statistics show that about one fifth of female HIV/AIDS cases involve girls in their teens. Between 1993-1998, cases of young girls being abused at home increased by 30 percent.

I brave the cold winter nights and embark on my three-day investigative mission. My findings are frightening and appalling, to say the least. I discover a world of child prostitution and drug rings. I am also confronted by married women and college girls, all plying the world's oldest profession in the dark corners of the city.

Working women too, have been forced to sell their bodies to make ends meet. Their inability to grapple with financial problems has set them on this rough and dangerous path.

It's day one of my investigation, and my first port of call is Josiah Chinamano St., in the Avenues. This area is well known for its vice, even President Mugabe once admitting "these flats are notorious."

It is midnight as I drive along Josiah Chinamano Avenue. I notice a group of young girls wearing glittering mini skirts and body tops. I head towards them and flick my lights to catch their attention. They stride toward me, and I notice that they are six of them. Three break away from the group and run towards another approaching car. The driver stops and picks up one of them. I lose sight of the remaining two as they disappear into the night.

The three girls approaching me walk in a suggestive manner, wiggling their bottoms and waists. I focus my attention on the youngest and pretend to be a prospective client. The other two leave, and I am left in her company.

"How much are your charges for a one night stand?" I ask her.

"Prices differ depending on whether you are using a condom or not," came her reply.

I am taken aback by the last part of her response - "Or not." I lure her into the car and she directs me to a secluded place. It is then that I introduce myself as an investigative journalist. She tries to dismiss me by saying she does not talk to journalists and that I should seek interviews from politicians and sportsmen. She is about to leave the car when I promise to compensate her for her time.

I notice a smile on her face as she insists that I hand over the money first. I comply, and with the money safely tucked in her purse, our interview begins. She introduces herself as "Tambudzai" and narrates her sad story.

Tambudzai, age 15, grew up on a farm in Mazowe, northeast of Harare. Her mother died in a bus accident when she was barely six. Her father was a farm laborer, and after the farm was sold to new owners they were forced to leave. Her father died a few months later after succumbing to a bout of malaria.

Following his death, poverty was unavoidable. Tambudzai was expelled from school for non-payment of fees, and none of her father's relatives offered to help. Her dream of becoming a nurse had been shattered. Left to fend for herself, she was lured into the venality of city life and found herself in Harare.

There she met other girls of her age who were already into prostitution, and she gave in to irresistible temptation.

She admits that working as a prostitute is dreadful, as she is constantly being physically abused by her older clients. Most of her clients insist on having unprotected sex, despite the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Sometimes her clients become aggressive when she asks for payment. She is often caught up in police raids, with some corrupt officers asking for bribes. Sometimes they demand that she hand over all her cash takings. Some even demand sexual favors in exchange for her release. Tambudzai cannot recall how many times she's had sex with police officers in order to secure her release.

Though she is bitter and disappointed, she says she will never be dispirited. Asked whether she has previously sought help from social services, she blusters that no social service agency is concerned with her plight.

Day 2

It is 10 p.m. Saturday, the second day of my investigation. It rained for a few hours but the heavy downpour has subsided. I drive along Josiah Chinamano St. and find it deserted. I attribute this to the unfavorable whether conditions and decide to drive toward Parirenyatwa hospital, as the area is also known for prostitution and drug activities. Trainee doctors sneak out at night to buy marijuana from the young peddlers and sexual services from the young girls.

On my way, I notice a lone girl wearing a black coat. As I approach her, she dashes into the middle of the road to catch my attention and unbuttons her coat. I notice she is not wearing anything underneath to cover her dignity.

"Can we do business?" she asks.

"What business?" came my reply.

The girl is cunning and tries to be humorous. "Well, I am a business person and sell body parts."

Seeing that I was failing to understand her humor, she explained further that she sells sex for a living. This is her first day back at work and she is desperate to raise money for rent and food. For the past week, she was on her menstrual cycle and was confined to her home. Now she wants to make up for the lost time and income.

Without being invited, she opens the door and jumps into the car. Her expression changes as I tell her that I am a journalist and not a prospective client. I am quick to produce a wad of cash and promise to compensate her for her time. She insists on having the money first before we can discuss anything. She has learned her lesson from experience as I later hear that some clients, who had promised to pay after sex, later became aggressive and failed to pay. Now she insists that payment be made first.

She does not want me to drive away since I am not looking for sexual favors. I comply and she narrates her sorry story of abuse, prostitution, drugs, and alcohol.

Tsitsi, 15, ran away from poverty and abuse in the Musana communal lands. She was lured into prostitution by her elder sister, who died of HIV/AIDS six months ago. Tsitsi started prostitution at the age of 14 after having been subjected to physical abuse by her father. She reported the matter to her mother, who accused her of lying. She later made a report to the police and her father was arrested. He is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for child abuse as well as cattle rustling.

Tsitsi is one of the many teenage girls working for a group of men involved in vice. The men set targets that the girls have to make each night. If they fail to meet these targets, they are physically abused. In some cases, they have to rob their clients, in cahoots with the men, to make up the difference. The victims, most of them businessmen and respectable members of society, do not report the crime for fear of being identified.

Tsitsi was introduced to drugs and alcohol at the age of 14. She says prostitution is the easiest solution to find money.

Day 3

It is Sunday night, the final day of my investigation. I head for a brothel along Herbert Chitepo Avenue. The area is infamous for its high-level of prostitution activities. Government ministers, too, frequent this place. Brothels are illegal in Zimbabwe and many of them operate in the guise of a bed and breakfast lodge.

This is where university and college girls ply their trade. Married women, too, come here to engage in prostitution. As I get to the brothel, I notice four top-of-the-class Mercedes Benzes parked outside. The owners are inside the building seeking sexual services. I approach the burly bouncer manning the gate, who directs me to room two.

In room two, a woman in her late 40s welcomes me. "Tea or coffee?" she asks.

"No thank you," came my reply.

After introducing myself, I quickly state my business and offer to compensate her for her time. Maidei is a married woman whose unsuspecting husband works in neighboring South Africa as a long distance truck driver. He plies the Zimbabwe-South Africa route and comes back to visit his family once a month.

She also works as a receptionist for an insurance company in the city. Because of the hardships facing ordinary people, she has decided to engage in prostitution to supplement her income. She says she insists on protected sex with her clients but admits to having had unprotected sex twice. She has on one occasion contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

There is a knock on the door and she excuses herself to answer it. She opens the door for her friend, Rosemary, who also works as a prostitute at the same brothel. Rosemary is a 36-year-old mother of two. She works for a car sales company. She was lured into prostitution following her separation from her husband. She could no longer afford to look after her children as a single mother.

But after years of abuse and police raids on the streets, she decided to join a brothel. Operating from a brothel is safer as security is provided by the owner. Government officials also visit the brothel and so do celebrities. Rosemary recalls one day when she had a one-night stand with a well-known gospel musician.

"These Christians do not practice what they preach," she says.

As I leave, I notice two girls in their late 20s. They are both university students out on the streets to supplement their bursaries [scholarships] through prostitution. I hear that some students have dropped out of college as economic hardships bite.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nelson G. Katsande

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