FOR one United States dollar, 13-year-old Stacey is willing to dance for any man in the nightclub. Her energetic gyrations under the glare of disco lights are rivetting and soon capture the attention of a man in his 30s.
Like a snake charmer, she controls the “entranced” fellow with her vibes, carefully using her seductive demeanour to compel him to dole out money at her every command. For an exclusive dance, he parts with US$1, for stealthily slipping his hands on to her budding breasts US$2 and for a bonus kiss, an extra dollar.
She then retreats to the club’s “VIP room” with the man following closely behind and emerges later, fanning herself with US$5 notes. It has been another profitable night of child prostitution.
“If you prefer a lap dance, all you need is to pay US$3. And US$5 will get you really close to me,” said Stacey after The Sunday Mail In-Depth crew, posing as prospective clients, drew her out.
A wave of child prostitution has swept across parts of the country with Harare fast becoming the nerve-centre of such activities. Girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are peddling flesh in nightclubs where eagle-eyed perverts are ever eager to pounce on them.
Most of the minors are from decent homes and seem to have ventured into this ruinous course simply to attain “financial independence” from their parents.
By day, they look pristine and adorable. Come nightfall, they instantly take on a devilish character, ready for nocturnal forays.
Posing as prospective clients, a crew for Sunday Mail In-Depth combed several clubs in central Harare to unearth the shenanigans that take place away from the parents’ vigilant gaze.
The experience was shocking. It left little to the imagination. Investigations began in the last week of the school holidays with a visit to a popular spot. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are the days that attracted droves of adolescents to the entertainment joints.
The girls arrived dressed in decent apparel before switching into skimpy night attire. Shockingly, the club owners waived the age restriction at the entrance.
The “feminine invasion” of the place was greeted with gazes of admiration from much older patrons, most of whom no doubt took in the bait. With bouts of infantile giggles, they imbibed beer. And once the ale took effect, they switched into work mode, performing sexually provocative dances until clients encircled them as vultures would a dying animal.
Money began to flow thereafter. From the raunchy dance routines to fondling, each of the girls had pocketed several dollars within a short space of time.
Another particular club is known for its active “ladies’ night”. Here, the girls’ antics on the dance-floor extend to a “VIP room” where they treat men to more intricate sexual favours for a US$5 fee.
Men with access to the room are club members. Others use toilets or disappear elsewhere with their clients. The children only leave the club at around 10pm, satisfied that they would have made considerable profits from their ventures.
They obviously do not forget to slip into decent attire which, once again, restores their adorable and pristine look. Meanwhile, parents back home do not hold any suspicions.
In yet another club, girls of this age group were on demand on account of their seeming innocence. They peddled flesh at a premium since the club is up-market. The fees ranged between US$15 and US$30.
A one-time client — who preferred anonymity — urged authorities to deal with the situation expeditiously.
“This is utterly shocking. Something needs to be done urgently to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. These girls are being taken advantage of and open themselves up to the risk of contracting HIV,” he said.
“Of course, some of us could not help ourselves but go after them initially. But look at them, so young? I felt sorry the moment a picture of my little daughter flashed across my mind.”
Harare police spokesperson Inspector James Sabau said it was a criminal offence for adults to have any sexual relations with minors.
“It is an offence whether or not the minor consents. Those caught on the wrong side of the law shall be prosecuted,” he said.
“Adults should act as in loco parentis with every minor; they should not take children for sexual partners.”
Responding to questions from her base in the United Kingdom, Girl Child Network executive director Ms Betty Makoni urged an aggressive approach towards the matter.
“As a nation, we should use all laws to protect children, especially girls. We are fully aware it is illegal to have sex with a minor no matter where and when you meet them.
“Children are in the direct care of parents, guardians, school authorities and communities. As such, we hold families accountable for anything that happens to them.
“Anyone suspected to have sexually abused the girls must be exposed and punished.
“Alcohol is also prohibited to children. Therefore, any pub that sells it to children should have its licence revoked. It is now time to name and shame such pubs and check where these children are coming from.”
Social commentator and television personality Mrs Rebecca Chisamba said adults should treat every child as their own.
“It is wrong to allow children to continue on the path of delinquency as they must focus on their careers.
“Club owners are also encouraged to follow rules and ethics. They should not profiteer at the expense of children.”
Child prostitution is not only a headache for parents but also raises fears of the spread of HIV among young people.
According to recent statistics on the country’s HIV and Aids prevalence rate, the 15 to 24 age group accounts for 41 percent of new infections.
Global statistics also show that an estimated five million people in this age group were living with HIV in 2009.
Cases of sexually transmitted diseases are surging across the country with Harare and Masvingo topping the list of new infections in the first quarter of 2011.
Research by the National Aids Council (NAC) revealed that 65 077 new cases have been recorded between January and April this year compared to 54 655 in the last four months of 2010.
The research also showed that Harare and Masvingo recorded the highest number of infections with 2 400 cases compared to 1 600 cases in December last year. South Africa also has a fair share of the same problem. According to a recent report by the South African Police Child Protection Unit, about 28 000 children are engaged in prostitution. The report also states that approximately 15 different girls between the age of 15 and 18 were arrested every month.