Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
LONG distance truck drivers plying routes along the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway are fuelling child prostitution by targeting school children and teenage sex workers operating between Lutumba and Ngundu Halt.
Lutumba is a growth point in Beitbridge district while Ngundu Halt is in the neighbouring Masvingo province. The Beitbridge-Chirundu road corridor is a trans-African highway network.
The highway, which is also part of the North–South Corridor Project, is the country’s busiest and is the gateway to neighbouring countries.
The Chronicle newscrew recently visited the Lutumba and Ngundu and established that young rural girls as young as 12 years were falling prey to truckers.
Investigations by this paper revealed that some truckers were exploiting the girls by offering them money, old clothes, empty bottles of soft drinks and beer in exchange for sex.
In some instances, school-going girls are now absconding classes to frequent night spots.
A teacher in Ngundu, who requested anonymity, said some children from surrounding schools were engaging in sex work to raise money for lunch and school fees.
“It is no secret that these truck drivers are now taking advantage of poor kids to sexually exploit them. We are saying authorities should do something about it because it is getting out of hand,” said the teacher.
In Ngundu, elderly sex workers who spoke to The Chronicle said some of the teenage prostitutes were charging as little as 50c for a short session and between $2 to spend the night with a client.
“It’s a shame that these truckers are taking advantage of these minors to sleep with them in return for empty bottles or useless coins. Sadly most of them are opting to engage these immature young girls for casual sex,” said 30 year-old Nomsa, a self-proclaimed prostitute operating in Ngundu, who identified herself with her first name only.
The girls, mostly from the surrounding rural communities of Mutimurefu, Rutenga and Chiredzi in Masvingo province are also lured into unprotected sex by the truckers offering “high fees” ranging between $15 and $20.
Most of the teenage hookers who spoke to The Chronicle said they were forced to venture into the dangerous business due to the tough economic situation.
Rudo Gumbo (name changed to protect the identity of the minor, a teenage sex worker at Ngundu Growth Point, said she was forced into the world’s oldest profession following the death of her parents between 2012 and 2014.
“I was 10 years when my mother died in 2012 and my father followed two years later. As the eldest child I was left with the sole responsibility of taking care of my siblings. My friend who was already into sex work invited me to Ngundu and she introduced me to a Malawian truck driver who became my regular client,” she said.
“The trucker enticed me into having unprotected sex with him under the guise that he would marry me. When he learnt that I had fallen pregnant, he disappeared and also changed numbers and that was the end of it. I am now a full time sex worker who has to fend for my two year –old son and two young brothers aged 13 and 11.”
Another teenage sex worker operating in Rutenga who declined to reveal her identity said she has no other means for a livelihood.
At Lutumba, girls who spoke to The Chronicle said business is brisk due to its strategic position as it is along the country’s busiest road, which connects Zimbabwe with South Africa, Zambia, DRC and other countries to the north.
“Business is brisk here I get a lot of long distance truck drivers engaging us for sex and they pay us good money unlike locals. I shuttle between Lutumba and Ngundu targeting truckers,” said the girl who only identified herself as Rudo from Maranda in Mwenezi district.
Hookers are trooping to Ngundu, Rutenga and Lutumba from all parts of the country to entice truckers connecting to these countries.
National Aids Council director for monitoring and evaluation, Mr Amon Mpofu said the issue of young sex workers needed a strategic approach as it was fast becoming a crisis.
“We need to critically find a solution to this before gains made so far in the fight against HIV could be eroded,” he said.
According to Real Opportunities for Transformation Support, an organisation involved in the fight against teenage prostitution, there are at least 2 000 underage girls engaged in commercial sex work in Zimbabwe.
Previous research has shown that as much as 50 percent of commercial sex workers in Zimbabwe are infected with HIV.
According to a report released by children’s rights campaigner, Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children (ZNCWC), young girls are pushed into prostitution by poverty after dropping out of school.
The report said the country’s highways have been turned into corridors of horror, with sexually transmitted diseases, gender-based violence and outright exploitation of defenceless and vulnerable teenage girls spreading like a veld fire.
The report gave evidence of sexual exploitation by sex predators, 10 percent of whom are transnational haulage truck drivers.