By Mashudu Netsianda
Commercial sex workers have descended on Nottingham and Bishopstone citrus farms in Beitbridge district where they are targeting seasonal farm workers earning foreign currency, thereby fuelling an increase in sexually transmitted infections in the border town.
A Chronicle news crew went out to investigate prostitution activities at the two popular citrus farms and unearthed startling revelations of how prostitutes, mostly teenage girls, have turned the areas into prime hot spots for HIV among other STIs.
Most of the girls are from neighbouring Mwenezi district in Masvingo province among other outlying areas such as Gokwe, Mberengwa, Chiredzi and Zvishavane.
The prostitutes, some as young as 14 years, have virtually turned compounds at the two farms into red-light districts. The two farms are situated on the outskirts of Beitbridge Town.
When The Chronicle recently visited Bishopstone Estate, the farm compound was teeming with several young girls mostly in tight fitting jean trousers and revealing mini-skirts.
The sex workers, who mainly operate from makeshift grass thatched huts on farm compounds, are lured into prostitution by the power of the United States dollar earned by seasonal farmers.
One of the sex workers from Gokwe, who identified herself as Memory Moyo (23), said she was driven by poverty to peddle her flesh.
“I didn’t choose to be a hooker. In fact, I was forced into this business of selling my body following the death of my father who was the sole breadwinner.
I arrived in Beitbridge in August after one of my friends tipped me of the abundance of foreign currency from seasonal farm workers who are employed at the orange orchards,” she said.
Memory, who operates from Bishopstone Estates, said for the past two months she had been camped at the farm targeting sex starved farm workers.
“There is a lot of money here and it is in United States dollars. I have quite a number of regular clients who opt for my services and they pay me in foreign currency. In fact, on a good day I rake in between US$30 and US$50,” she said.
Another teenage girl from Maranda area in Mwenezi district, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “I come to Bishopstone Estates every year during this time of the year when the orange harvesting season begins. Most seasonal farm workers, especially the elderly, prefer young girls to older women.”
Another 15-year-old girl from Chiredzi, who operates from Nottingham Estate, said they were forced into prostitution to support their families back home.She said she was forced to drop out of school two years ago after the death of her mother in 2015.
“As the eldest sister I resorted to prostitution to raise money to fend for my siblings,” she said.
Beitbridge District Medical Officer Dr Lenos Samhere said HIV indicators showed that the district recorded an increase in the number of STIs in the last three months, a development which he attributed to commercial sex work in farms.
The orange harvesting season traditionally starts from July to the end of October or November.
“The number of commercial sex workers differs in term of their age groups and our statistics show that teenagers constitute the highest number. Their clients are mostly clearing agents and truck drivers who also contribute to the high number of STIs.
In areas such as Nottingham and Bishopstone farms, there is definitely an increase in the number of STIs especially during the orange harvesting season because of the influx of people, among them commercial sex workers, invading those farms.
We have therefore noted a corresponding increase in STI cases in those farming areas,” he said.
Dr Samhere said commercial sex workers are categorised as a high risk group with a potential of contracting HIV.
“We continue to urge such groups to take up post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP everyday, which is a form of HIV prevention because if you suffer from an STI, you are also likely to contract HIV since the skin surfaces would have been damaged,” he said.
According to statistics, the number of people treated for STIs in Beitbridge increased from 384 in January to 412 in August. Dr Samhere said Beitbridge is one of the worst affected districts in the country in terms of HIV infections with 17 047 patients on antiretroviral therapy.
He said the number of patients on ART has since the beginning of the year been on the rise.
“We do handle a number of STIs in our hospital and clinics but you will find that most of commercial sex workers whom we categorise as special populations, prefer to utilise Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) night clinics and wellness centres where they don’t pay for treatment and drugs.
Commercial sex workers tend to visit these facilities because the set up in those facilities is friendly to them since they don’t mix with other members of the community hence they can be very open when discussing about their profession,” he said. The Chronicle.