Three-year-old Kundai blows on his balloon in the Avenues area of Harare.
The toddler and his friends take turns blowing the balloon.
Everything is okay until Kundai’s mother shrieks in horror at the sight.
Firstly, the balloon is in actual fact a used condom.
Secondly, it still has semen inside it. Revolting as it is, this scene is not unusual in the Avenues area.
While there are families who live in the Avenues area with their children, this district is also known as the “Red Light” zone.
The name is in reference to the intense prostitution that happens in the area.
The Harare Residents Trust (HRT) has been up in arms with the city fathers over this situation, but the residents’ representative body says discussions with the city fathers have not yielded results as the number of sex workers in the area is steadily increasing.
“We have been in talks with the town council to at least gazette certain areas that these people can operate from because the situation is beyond pathetic,” a spokesperson said.
“We have cases of child sexual abuse as a result of these activities and since the country does not have a clear position on prostitution, may the council please help us and save our children.”
Sex work is not officially criminalised in Zimbabwe. Criminalised acts include running a brothel and profiting from prostitution.
However, it is difficult to prove guilt under the more specific legislation governing prostitution and therefore, miscellaneous criminal and local laws are applied to act as a deterrent and a punishment to sex workers.
Sex workers are often arrested and detained for soliciting, blocking the pavement and tarnishing the image of the local area.
The current liquidity crunch in the country has pushed even university graduates into the oldest profession. It has been reported that most families are living on R5 a day.
Zimbabwe’s unemployment levels are escalating at astronomical rates despite promises from the Zanu PF-led government that at least 2,2 million jobs would be created in the wake of their election win.
At least 30 000 graduates churned out from universities and tertiary colleges every year are resorting to desperate measures, with some forced into menial jobs and prostitution.
The country’s unemployment rate tops 85 percent and people are becoming jobless every day as more firms shut down because of harsh economic conditions.
A recent survey by the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) said 711 companies in Harare went bust in the period July 2011 to July 2013, rendering 8 336 individuals jobless.
This is an addition to more than 90 companies that have closed shop in Bulawayo since 2010, with more than 20 000 workers thrown onto the streets.
Latest figures from the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) have shown that the cost of living has risen significantly from around $330 in March 2009 — when the country adopted a multi-currency system — to the current $511.
With the unclear laws on prostitution in the country, women are now afraid of moving freely in the Avenues area at night.
“The police will arrest any woman they think is indecent and walking at night,” said Chiedza Mpofu, a young woman who stays in the Avenues. “Although this is well-intentioned, they end up harassing innocent people leaving the real culprits.”
Another young woman who stays in the area told news crew that government must first clarify its position on prostitution.
“Everything will remain mixed up and as far as I know some of these policemen get favours from the prostitutes and do not even arrest them, at the end of the day these people are violating us,” said Samantha Maponga, another Avenues tenant.
Landlords in the area however prefer sex workers as their tenants as they pay more in rentals than an average family.
“You see these young girls will share a room and pay as much as $15 for that room, per day,” said Morris Mafuta, a landlord in the area.
“If those girls are five, that will translate to about $2 000 per month, which is more than what I get from a family setup.”
Ordinarily, rentals range from $300-$600 in the area, and sex workers mostly take turns using the bedroom, depending on who has a client.
A commercial sex worker who spoke to the news crew said they had a right to a home.
“Ukuona iwewe ukuita basa rako, asvotwa ngaarutse (As you can see, you are doing your job, anyone uncomfortable will have to move out),” she said.
“Those who complain that they have children should look for places out of town. This area is not an area for kids, there are too many pubs, noise and really no one in their right mind raises a child in such an area,” said Nomthembu Ntini, who operates from the Avenues.
However, parents in the area feel they should be free to raise their children in any environment they chose, depending on one’s pocket.
“If I can afford the rentals and feel it’s convenient for me, why should I move elsewhere?” said Donald Kandamiri, who also resides in the Avenues. “Government must seriously do something about these people, it is now out of hand.”
Apart from sexual abuse, parents in the area also complain of the exposure their children have to recreational drugs in the area.
“There are people smoking in the alleys even in broad daylight, we have young children coming from pre-school, primary school and high school walking through the same alleys,” said Shuvai Kujoma, a young mother in the area.
The town fathers have been accused of failing to run the city, reflected in poor hygiene and appalling sanitation condition. Now parents in the Avenues are pushing for designated areas for commercial sex work to protect their children.
“All we want is for our children to have a healthy environment to grow up in. If possible, they could just mark certain areas specifically meant for these activities so that we can raise our children decently,” said Mukudzai Chiweshe, a father to a six-year-old girl, who also lives in the Avenues.
The Town House spokesperson was unavailable for comment.
Avenues, the top Red Light zoneZimbabwe’s unemployment levels are escalating at astronomical rates leading some to resort to prostitution.