More than 160 000 children in Zimbabwe are feared to have fallen victims to sexual exploitation through online platforms, Maxim Murungweni, Programs Manager at Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children (ZNCWC) has revealed.
Murungweni who made the remarks while presenting at belated Day of the African Child commemorations held in Harare recently, said the problem of Sexual Exploitation of Children (SEC) has increasingly become a major global concern.
“Children in SEC in Southern Africa including Zimbabwe are highly vulnerable to HIV, as the risks of being young and female in a high prevalence setting merge with those of commercial sex.
“Children in SEC are less able to negotiate safe sex, more likely to have higher risk sexual partners, and less likely to use available health services compared to older sex workers
“The magnitude of SEC in Zimbabwe cannot be quantified, though recently National Aids Council (NAC) concluded the Size Estimate Study of Sex Workers is that around 160000 children are in ESC,” he said.
Lack of awareness of CSEC, insufficient recognition of the complexities and difficulties of dealing with SEC by the relevant stakeholders and lack of awareness among the general public with regard to the manifestations of SEC and how to report cases were also cited as fueling the scourge.
According to Murungweni, there is a need to develop standardized context-specific guidelines and model on the identification, removal and reintegration of children in sexual exploitation into their families and communities in Zimbabwe:
”We need to develop alternative means of livelihoods for child victims/survivors and their families to prevent further sexual exploitation. We also need to develop an early identification response system and recruit and deploy a well-trained cadre of youth peer educators,” noted Murungweni.
54 girls were rescued from sexual exploitation in 2017 with the ZNCWC study showing that (18% (52) of participants were under 18 years and 64% reported starting selling sex below the age of 18 years.
According to United States government, new technologies are facilitating the online sexual exploitation of children, including the live streaming of sexual abuse of children using web cameras or cellphones, often for profit.
Experts believe tens of thousands of children globally are sexually exploited online, and the number appears to be growing.