A girl who looked hardly 15 stood out among a group of scantily dressed women at a hub for haulage trucks in Victoria Falls. Her young face was heavily powdered and her eyebrows were dark, but the plastic face could not hide her age.
Shylet Moyo* has scars of a hardened fighter and has grown much faster than your ordinary Zimbabwean girl.
As a sex worker, she has seen it all, from those who loved violent sex to those who after the act robbed her of all the money she would have toiled for.
Skimpily-dressed and gyrating to music blaring from the haulage trucks in transit to countries such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Moyo shouted to any man who passed by: "hello sugar pie! Come and quench your thirst here for only $10… come my love."
|Young Sex Workers Invade Victoria Falls|
She also had a bottle of anti-retroviral drugs and a small pack of cigarettes.
"Eita love, come…" she pleaded in street lingo while casting her eyes in every direction.
"We can go behind that truck and we do a quickie," she said, pointing to a secluded dark corner behind a truck which had been turned into a sex nest by the commercial sex workers.
Moyo, looking desperate, whispered, "Please come before the older girls come here and harass me, please even $7 is okay, and we will be fast".
"Sweetie, help me, even $5 will do," she pleaded. "These truck drivers here and the big sisters [referring to older sex workers]have been heartless to us.
"They know I can't make a police report whenever I am abused because it would be to my disadvantage.
"Look, I am only 13 years old and I should not be here but I have no option," Moyo added.
"I have to put food on the table; I am an orphan with no one to look after me.
"Please, it has to be fast because once the big girls notice us here, they will follow me and take whatever you would have given me, just a quickie would do and a small amount is okay for me."
On the night, there were about 40 haulage trucks that were parked in the area and the young girls were using them as cover to entertain clients.
The majority of the girls, numbering about 20, looked below the age of 16. Some revealed that they were working for older men and women who took most of their income.
Moyo opened up after this reporter informed her that he was in the area to follow on a trip by the National Aids Council (NAC) earlier in the day where officials were shocked by the levels of child prostitution.
"I was brought here by Busi, a fellow sex worker, who told me this is a lion's den, and only those who are brave survive. Indeed, only those who are brave and can fight make it," she said.
"At times some men demand to have unprotected sex and pay more than $50 but if I am not careful, older girls who are obviously jealous would come and take the money saying I am too young to be here".
She added: "Some men don't pay, after sleeping with me they will kick me out of their trucks and I can't report to the police because I am young.
"The other option is to claim that I have been raped, but again that would destroy my career."
As the conversation with Moyo continued another girl who looked the same age emerged from a haulage truck parked nearby.
"Does he want a 3some or he has no money?" the girl who later identified herself as Munesu shouted.
"Give me condoms. I will be back in five minutes and you can tell your man that we can negotiate for anything."
The Victoria Falls truck stop is just but one of the many prostitution hotspots in the town where men come to whet their sexual appetites on underage girls.
Even during daytime, sex workers - some as young as 12 - line up the main road connecting Victoria Falls town centre and the truck stop scouting for customers.
NAC has set up a clinic at the truck stop to help both the sex workers and truck drivers whenever they fall sick.
The clinic, according to authorities, offers HIV-testing services and sex workers dominate the number of visitors to the clinic, which is manned by a nurse and aides.
NAC communications director, Madeline Dube said they were worried about the influx of young sex workers in the resort town.
"Some of them do not have bargaining power in negotiating safe sex with their clients, most of whom are successful men of means," she said.
"They end up giving in to demands for unprotected sex, in some instances at the grave risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases as well as HIV and Aids."
Although her organisation has intensified awareness on condom use, the decision on whether to use them or not lies with individuals.
NAC director for monitoring and evaluation, 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, otherwise the gains made so far in the fight against HIV could mean nothing," he said.
According to Real Opportunities for Transformation Support, an organisation involved in the fight against teen prostitution, there are at least 2 000 underage girls overtly engaged in commercial sex work in Zimbabwe
Previous research has shown that as much as 50% of commercial sex workers in Zimbabwe are infected with HIV.
Source: The Standard