Zimbabwe's underworld of teen sex, drugs
TEENAGERS of school-going age take turns going into a secret hide-out located in Hatfield, Harare, on a Saturday.
The girls are dressed in all sorts of skimpy tight fitting clothes, while their male counterparts are clad in hip-hop fashion wear.
At the gate, young boys take turns vetting young teens before they allow them into their secret party. In Bulawayo, they call such gatherings vuzu parties.
The occasion has strictly been planned through WhatsApp groups and it is one of the vuzu parties which have become popular with teenagers nowadays.
Vuzu parties are wild indoor gatherings organized by teenagers with activities that include beer-drinking binges, drugs, and unprotected sex - at times with multiple partners.
The teenagers self-fund the party often without the knowledge of their parents. Usually, the wild parties happen at homes where the parents are overseas.
Investigations by NewsDay Weekender showed that the parties are responsible for introducing young people to the world of sex and drugs.
Zimbabwe's health demographic indicates that nearly 40% of girls and 24% of boys are sexually active before they reach the age of 18.
"We do all kinds of games which often lead to drug abuse and sex," one of the teens at the Hatfield party told the reporter who attended the party undercover.
Some of the competitions during the party according to several teenagers are sex master, twerking queen, drug king, and booze master.
"The one who has managed to sleep with several girls on the day is crowned sex master, while the drug king is the one who has managed to take in a lot of skunks (marijuana)," the teen said.
"Once they get introduced to the world of drugs through these parties, they get hooked and it will be the start of an addiction," psychologist Arnold Dzvova said.
Investigations by NewsDay Weekender showed that most of the house parties which degenerate into drug abuse and steamy sex sessions are either hosted at hired venues, or houses where parents are living in the diaspora.
A flat along Livingstone Avenue in Harare has become famous for hosting these illicit gatherings. Teenagers book a room for US$40 per night.
Sheila (19), who fled home when she was just 10 years old to live in Harare's streets, said she would abuse drugs and sex as protection from gangsters.
"I had problems with my relatives when my parents died, and I decided to leave home in 2013. I was just 10. In the streets, there are gangsters and I had to join one for my protection. We usually took drugs as a coping mechanism and to fight the biting winter temperatures. I had to sleep with the gang leader so that I get protection," she said.
Sheila is part of six former drug addicts who have turned a leaf through the support of a local pentecostal church.
Regional Psychological Support Initiative Zimbabwe country director Sibusisiwe Marunda said most teenagers are introduced to such vices by friends.
"Many young people are introduced to drug and substance abuse by friends and peers through negative peer pressure which can be direct and indirect. If one keeps the company of friends who have negative habits such as drug and substance abuse, the likelihood of being persuaded to indulge in negative habits is high," Marunda wrote in an Op-Ed in NewsDay earlier this week.
Marunda urged teachers to be vigilant when dealing with the scourge of drugs and underage sex.
"Schools in their loco parentis role need to realize they have a big role to ensure the learner's wellbeing and prevent the onset of negative coping mechanisms. Urgent guidance and counseling sessions should, if this is not already happening, include dialogue about drug and other substance abuse."
Nigel Hove, who is a teacher at a local boarding school said it was common for pupils to smuggle beer and drugs into school premises, and usually, the students become violent.
"We have witnessed a lot of commotion caused by these youths when they get high; we had to call the police to intervene. The headmaster was left with no choice, but to expel them from school. Some have been caught having sex," Hove said.
According to a recent study by Shamwari YemwanaSikana (SYS), a local community-based organization that seeks to promote the rights and empowerment of the girl child in the home, school, and community, most young girls below the legal age of consent to sex were falling prey to sex work owing to increased use of drugs.
"Alcohol abuse is a major driver of irresponsible sexual behavior among young people as both registered and unregistered bars/beer halls sell alcohol to young people, especially in high-density areas like Mbare, Epworth, Chitungwiza, Tafara, and other areas.
"These unemployed youths and destitute who are idle and desperate in the streets suggest they have no option but to take these alcohols - sometimes illegal, in a bid to curb their desires. This consumption of alcohol leads to unacceptable behaviors that have repercussions.
"There are illicit brews like kachasu and musombodiya that are made and are easily available to the youths who are unemployed. This has become the order of the day. The prices of kachasu and musombodiya substances range from $0,50 depending on how much one wants to consume." Various containers are used from as small bottles of 330ml cans to 1 liter bottles that are used to consume these illicit alcohols, the SYS study noted.
Father Maganga, the priest at St Canisius Catholic Church said: "Too many young lives are enslaved to substance abuse, and we hope that this event may help some people get on the road to piece their lives back together. We also hope that other communities across the country will mirror our activities to help give people the strength to overcome their challenges."
Social commentator Pardon Kadzere said many factors have caused the proliferation of young drinkers and alcoholism among youths. He said it is a sign of the breakdown in the social fabric.
"Most of these youths have resorted to alcohol to siphon out their frustrations. Parents no longer have time to discuss problems faced by their children in today's world. Children turn to drink to run away momentarily from the problems they face. Other parents are too busy with their children and do not monitor them. Some children can start drinking and go on for years without parents noticing yet living under one roof," he said.
Director of Ezer Zimbabwe Trust, Takunda Witness Mtetwa, told NewsDay Weekender that his organization was dealing with numerous cases of children using drugs and juveniles involved in other nefarious activities like early sex.
"A lot needs to be done from home monitoring, and community mobilization to national consensus if we are to take a strong point in the fight against drugs and substance abuse. One of the most useful systems available in the fight against drugs and substance abuse is the legal system," Mtetwa said.
In a bid to fight the scourge of drug abuse and underage sex, police said they were contemplating carrying out regular searches for drugs and dangerous weapons in schools.
"We are considering carrying out some searches (in schools), but we are also appealing to parents to also do the same process at home first," Bulawayo provincial police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said on Wednesday.