Parents and guardians in the settlement of Epworth on Harare's outskirts could be complicit in their children — some as young as 12 — engaging in prostitution, we have established, residents of the high-density suburb say.
Girls aged between 12 and 18 are competing with elderly prostitutes to sell sex. Reports also say the young girls who are said to be in Grade 7 are even more flexible in 'chikapa' as compared to elderly prostitutes.
Several of the girls whom we spoke to said their parents "encouraged" them to go out at night and return with money.
Staff at local bars also said some parents and guardians, unable to pay school fees, looked aside as their daughters cavorted with men so long as they brought home a few dollars.
On several nights over the past two weeks, this paper spent time in Epworth and witnessed and talked to children in commercial s*x work.
There has been much anecdotal evidence suggesting all manner of vice and illicit activities at the place referred to as "PaBooster" in the Overspill section of Epworth.
"PaBooster is not a bar, it is an Econet booster. If you want women then you have come to the right place. The booster is 300 metres from here along this road. The four of you can pay US$5 and enjoy your visit," said a male vendor who directed us to the centre of the local flesh trade.
We approached a group of girls and two older women not far from the base station.
"If you want (quickie sex) you must pay her US$4. If you want to be with her the whole night we negotiate. The house is less than 15 metres from here," said one of the older women when we asked about one of the girls' services.
The girl said she was 14 and could arrange for other young girls to come if we were interested in sex with under-age partners.
Four police officers, one of them female, walked up to us and ordered the group to disperse with one of the cops saying: "Precious, go with your clients to the booster."
Near the base station, three men were frolicking with two girls in school uniform behind a tuckshop.
When the headlights of our car flashed on them, they scampered in different directions — except for one girl — looking dishevelled. The remaining girl calmly walked away after brushing grass and dirt off her uniform.
The tuckshop owner said, when the car had stopped, "Do not worry about them fleeing from you; they thought you were police officers. You can go and wait for them at the (liquor) stores."
At a nearby bar (name withheld), the resident disc jockey — Brown — told us: "If you want young girls you have chosen the wrong bar . . . For a (quickie) go to (name of bar); they rent their rooms. Actually it is more like a brothel, you just pay the lady US$5 and that will cover the costs for accommodation. They have blankets and you do your business on the floor."
A skimpily dressed 14-year-old girl outside the bar said we could go to her home for paid s*x. Asked where her parents were, she said they "did not matter".
Another one, Vimbai, said: "We can go to my place. . . my sister doesn't mind but you must first pay me."
Probed about her age, a giggling Vimbai said she would turn 15 in December.
Around 11pm on our second night in Epworth, Brown — the DJ — told us that if we were not satisfied by the young girls in the bar he could take us to another bar (name withheld) to find "fresh" ones.
At the other bar, rental rooms with blankets on the floors were available, and the scent of marijuana was strong.
"A lot of prostitution takes place here in Overspill and business is booming for these girls. I hear that some of the girls now go right into the city centre bars. They pay their landlords monthly rentals of about US$25 per room. Three of them can share a room and the landlords do not care about their ages or what they use the rooms for as long as they get their cash. Others pay daily rentals of US$3."
Brown tells us the parents and guardians look aside. "As long as they bring money home no one cares how they got it."
A fortnight ago, participants at a social media training workshop in Harare, organised by Youth Forum revealed some parents in Epworth were forcing their daughters to get into prostitution.
A Mai Linda said she knew a woman who actively went looking for young girls to work in her brothel.
A study by the University of Zimbabwe's Institute of Environmental Studies says two out of every three children in Epworth lived in poverty-stricken homes. One out of 10 live in extreme poverty, with female-headed households the worst affected.