FIFTY-FOUR girls have been rescued from sexual exploitation for survival and placed into statutory care following a prominent exposé of underage commercial sex work in Epworth, Hopley and Caledonia by Katswe Sistahood.
The sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy group is calling on the government to swoop in and arrest the paedophiles who are targeting poverty-ravaged young girls, raping and sexually exploiting them.
Talent Jumo, director of Katswe Sistahood, applauded the intervention of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, whose Victim Friendly Unit officers and social workers were involved in the rescue and re-housing of the girls.
“We commend the Ministry’s swift response to the plight of the girls and the helpful intervention they made to remove them from situations of sexual exploitation and getting them to safety.
“Going forward, we recommend that government comes up with a national strategy to rescue and support more girls from across the country. This could be done through a multi-stakeholder coordinated process to draw up a long-term plan that also addresses underlying drivers of sexual exploitation of girls in the country,” Jumo said.
Katswe Sistahood also called on the Ministry to invest in developing a database for vulnerable children in need of assistance. This would enable the Ministry to provide them with specific support that would improve their economic standing to ensure that they do not become targets of paedophiles who exploit their desperation.
The issue of rampant child sexual exploitation has caught the attention of the nation following a publicity campaign led by Katswe Sistahood, which involved an interview with the affected children on Star FM. Zimbabweans in and out of the country responded to the news with shock and outrage, with many offering to provide financial support to the under-age girls being sexually exploited for survival.
However, Katswe Sistahood had to quickly abandon its efforts to coordinate the donations through a GoFundMe page following allegations catalysed by both online and mainstream media that their exposé was part of a ploy to raise funds for the organisation.
These allegations have largely been circulated on social media by prominent figures, such as political activist and Epworth native Acie Lumumba, who played a voice recording of a girl alleging that Katswe Sistahood had coerced the underage girls to say that they were sex workers in exchange for money.
However, Lumumba was challenged on Facebook about his apparent opportunism on the case by singer and girl child activist Nyari Mashayamombe. In a Facebook live video, Lumumba had earlier claimed that the 9-year-old girl who was interviewed on StarFM did not exist.
Addressing Lumumba, Mashayamombe said: “When this story broke you bought it and ran with it…you then turned around and said it was a hoax and started attacking Katswe, and this we have on record. Now you’re back, you’ve seen the child, contrary to you accusing Katswe of making up the story…We need leaders that are truthful, leaders of consistency – we need people who own up and apologise. You can’t just continue changing colours, my dear brother. It hurts me to see how selfishly the stories of children are being played like this. Katswe together with many local NGOs do this work because they are absolutely touched and moved by these issues.”
To cap an eventful week for the organisation, Jumo has been named among 40 “new generation family planning leaders” for 2017 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.
She received $1,000 from the Gates Institute to continue her work in family planning. Katswe Sistahood will launch a new campaign to promote awareness of both short and long-term contraceptive methods, including emergency contraception and condoms.
“At Katswe we have the welfare of girls and women at heart, and we are humbled that our work has been recognised in this special way. Too many young women have hardly enough information on sex, sexuality, conception and contraception. We want everyone to use every opportunity they get to discuss these topics,” Jumo said.