As the sun sets marking the end of another day, the mining town of Shamva suddenly comes to life. People from all walks of life including illegal gold miners, some already intoxicated fill-up the numerous nightspots in the town enjoying their daily harvests.
The night clubs in Shamva are already buzzing with sounds of Zimdancehall, popular music genre in Zimbabwe at the moment in preparation for another fruitful business day as small scale miners popularly known as Makorokoza start trickling from every corner ready to spend their hard-gained cash on young girls who could be seen standing on every dark corner of the town in search of ‘clients’.
One striking feature about the most clubs in Shamva is that their bigger population of ladies are young girls below the age of 16.
Here, sex is on sale all year. Seven days a week. As in all markets of this kind, sellers and buyers favour the darkness of the night.
The young girls are not deterred by age or being surrounded by older people as they chase the greenback which of late has been scarce in Zimbabwe but in abundance in Shamva such that a visitor to the area would easily think he/she is in some other country due to its negligible exchange of hands without hassle.
Scantily dressed young girls could be seen gyrating at blessers in reference to Makorokoza’s habit of spending cash on women, wiggling their bottoms as if their lives depend on it.
In effortless rhythm, they seductively dance in front of their ready-to-attack male counterparts.
Within minutes, one of the “blessers disappear” from the night club in the company of a young girl into the nearby bush for some business that anyone can guess is transactional.
For these girls, business blooms during weekends as the miners take a break from their exhausting sedentary lifestyle of spending hours digging deep into the earth for the precious mineral.
“I can handle 10 clients a night, USD $20 with a condom and US$15 without a condom,” says one the minors.
She, like the rest of the children, is scared to be seen out in the open, so her business thrives in the darkness.
She says she has been in the game for quite a while, enough to be called a “professional sex worker”
Across the road, a few old women who are also in the trade, linger in search of other customers and blame the minors for snatching their customers.
“They should go back to school, they are taking us out of business. We now have to scrap hard for a living because all our clients prefer young blood,” a lady identified as Charlene, tells this reporter.
Yes, she is right, these girls must be in school. But, one after the other, these teenagers tell similar stories.
The death of a parent or the wickedness of loved ones robs them of their innocence, dignity and ambition.
Lisa (no real name, 15) says she has never been to school. She has been living on the street since her mother died.
This girl left her family home in Mutoko where she was staying with her aunt.
She started by selling onions at night with her friends, then ended up selling her body.
“When I was 8, my parents sent me to one of their cousins. One day, accusing me of stealing US$5, which I did not do, my aunt beat me violently.
“Blood was flowing from my nostrils. So I decided to run away from home and ended up at Wadzanai market where I saw girls my age who had the same difficulties. I spent the night with them under tables at the market place’ Lisa says.
Unfortunately, at 14, she fell pregnant and has a one-year-old baby who she says she is struggling to cater for.
In the end, she is forced to engage in sex work.
During the day she sells vegetables, but at night she indulges in prostitution to support herself. A double life her family is far from imagining.
“I have no news from my parents. I did not go to my aunt’s house where they left me”.
As in all markets, prices are negotiable. With or without a condom and depending on the time spent with the client.
One of the men who occasionally pry on the kids, Tonde* (not real name) says they lure the girls with money from their gold sales and often demands unprotected sex, which exposes the minors to sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies.
“I’m 32 years old and an artisanal miner here. I know this place well. When I want to have fun, I choose a girl. I approach her with greetings and express the need to make love to her. Automatically, she gives me the price and we go to a place nearby,” he says.
“We spend the night in lodges with some older guests. With them, the fare goes from $50 to $70 we sometimes pay them half of the amount we make” he adds.
Sadly, most of the girl end up married off early or alone with unwanted pregnancies and are forced into at that tender age but mostly face gender-based violence due to lack of control.
Statistics show that In Mashonaland Central Province, child marriage is ranked at 50%, and this makes it the highest in the country.
Chief Busha, who is one of the three traditional leaders in Shamva and Murehwa Districts working to end child marriages, told this publication recently that gold has become a big enabler of teen pregnancies and child marriages.
“We have gold in this area and that has become a big problem for us because at a time most children are lured by mukorokoza. They are promised heaven on earth and in the end, they get married at a very early stage.
“In turn, they contract sexually transmitted infections and some drop out of school which leave them vulnerable to the harsh reality of the world,” he said
Rozaria Memorial Trust, an organisation engaged in the promotion of well-being and defence of human rights, in particular, those of children and women, is on the ground trying to offer a second chance and a new life to the girls who are victims of sexual exploitation.
The Trust is a temporary support system for these girls who are victims of sexual exploitation, abuse, trafficking, economic exploitation and the worst forms of gender-based violence in and around Murehwa and Shamva districts.