Sexual exploitation of the girl child spikes during lockdown

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… insuperable economy forcing families to use girls as food bearers

By Perseverance Javangwe

The coronavirus crisis has led to a sharp increase in the sexual exploitation of the girl child in Zimbabwe, with poverty striking most families during the lockdown, to an extent of using girls as mechanisms to bring food at the table.

During the covid-19 lockdown the economic situation in the country worsened with poverty rising in most parts of the country. This has had tremendous effects on young girls’ lives, most of whom have been forced into prostitution in order to get something to eat. Sex offenders have found in this development a tempting opportunity to access a broader group of potential victims

Speaking at a virtual event hosted by Social Workers, Maxim Murungweni a social worker specializing on child rights governance, research and reporting to Human Rights Treaty bodies, and is also the Child Rights Advisor for Shamwari Yemwanasikana stated that the covid-19 pandemic through national lockdowns has exacerbated the rise of child sexual exploitation. The girl child is being used as a mechanism to alleviate poverty.

“Sexual exploitation of the girl child has been happening in Zimbabwe and across the world even before the outbreak of Covid-19. But due to Covid-19 the problem of sexual exploitation has increased mainly because of the effects of the lock down restrictions on family income. Poverty has increased since industries have closed as well as the informal market from which the majority of families rely on. So this has made the girl child more vulnerable and end up being sexually exploited in exchange for money, food and other material things. As Shamwari Yemwanasikana through our Dandaro Girls platform we have received an increase in the number of cases of girls involved in sexual exploitation in places like Hopley, Chihota, and Stoneridge.

“This is happening especially at Growth points with girls as young as 12 years being involved. I remember when we did a nationwide survey in 2016 the results showed how these growth points such as Ngundu have become hotspots for sexual exploitation of children. So as we speak we have had of such cases in areas like Mahusekwa.

“Unfortunately because of the negative effects of Covid-19 on the economy we will continue to see an increase in such cases since this is seen as a copying mechanism by families for them to use the girl child to get something to put food on the table,” he said.

This is despite the fact that Section 87 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act penalises adults who expose children to prostitution and related activities. Parents and guardians are prohibited from letting their children associate with prostitution.

According to Murungwen there is need therefore, for the government and civil society organisations to put more effort and end the scourge of sexual exploitation that continues to hinder the girl child in Zimbabwe. He also added that child exploitation has increase much in the mining areas with girls opting to charge small amounts for sex so that they can purchase vegetables while others have fallen victim to child trafficking in the neighboring countries.

“A lot of cases have been reported of young girls below 18 who are being sexually exploited due to their vulnerability under the lockdown. This is more prevalent in Chitungwiza, Hopeley, Stoneridge and other peri-urban areas. We received a report of pimps who are exchanging our girls for cash under the lockdown in Chitungwiza Unit L and we are still carrying out investigations. There is a video which went viral of a lady who was explaining how bad the situation is in Southlea Park with young girls charging 5rtgs so they can buy vegetables. In mining areas the situation is worse, young girls are now being used as means of survival, the worst part being that schools are currently closed. I have read of girls who are being trafficked to South Africa and Botswana, for such purposes using unauthorized passages.

“The government and development partners should put more safety nets to cushion families against poverty which has been worsened by Covid-19. For example the issue of period poverty which has become so apparent during this lockdown which has prompted us as Shamwari Yemwanasikana to carry out a Pad Campaign to try raise sanitary ware for the girl child. Secondly we need to deliberately target these known hotspots as all stakeholders doing campaigns as well as monitoring visits with the department of social welfare to make sure that children do not frequent these places. We also need more investment into child protection programmers and employ more social workers to be able to provide quality services. We also need to come up with long-term sustainable reintegration and support programmers to assist child survivors of sexual exploitation,” said Murungweni.

Sexual child exploitation is a worst form of child labor as it is harmful too every child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development and, therefore, children are entitled to protection. Sexual child exploitation violates the child’s right to liberty, dignity, privacy and expressions.

If poverty is properly addressed then our children won’t be pushed into sexual exploitation.

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