HARARE – It is nearly midday and Nyasha (not real name) enters into the Cesvi aid agency offices in Harare.
The teenager is handed some tablets which she swallows immediately and makes her way out of the Milton Park-based office.
This office has been a source of hope for the many HIV-positive street children.
For Nyasha, this is the only home she knows.
On the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital, growing numbers of orphaned and abandoned children are victims of poverty and a breakdown of traditional family order, conditions that translate into sexual abuse.
Some homeless children get medication, food and shelter from private charities. But tens of thousands fend for themselves, the tragedies in their lives largely go unheeded.
Cesvi is an aid agency that assists children living on the streets by offering them a place to bath, cook and get medical assistance.
Nyasha is just one of the many street children living with HIV/Aids. Thanks to Cesvi’s intervention, she can now access anti-retroviral drugs.
The organisation also goes a step further by educating the street children.
“We receive girls as young as 12 who either have sexually transmitted infections or Aids,” said Winidzia Rwaendepi, a child protection officer.
“The situation is dire because these girls only come here when they are ill. This is so because when all is well on the streets, they shun facilities such as ours.”
She added: “The main challenge that girls face on the streets is that whoever enters first in their blankets sleeps with them. Moreso, new girls on the streets are introduced to prostitution and when they start making money they forget about organisations such as ours.”
Many of the thousands of children that wander the busy streets of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, are sexually active but few have any knowledge about the risks of HIV.
The street children reveal that they are engaged in sexual relations that were both homosexual and heterosexual and rarely use any protection, leaving them highly vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.
Many of the street children have multiple partners, often with other children and sex is not always consensual.
Sometimes they are forced into sex, and there are cases of rape of smaller children by older children.
It is estimated that there are 700 street children in Harare and most of them are exposed to a raft of abuses on a daily basis.
Female street children are first sexually abused by male street children and then they are later exploited as prostitutes.
This makes them vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/Aids as they do not use condoms.
Economically and socially excluded, they wander in the heart of the capital often appearing drunk.
They are in fact high from sniffing T-shirts soaked in glue or industrial thinners.
Most female street kids are regular drug users.
For a few dollars obtained by begging or stealing, they can buy a daily dose of glue or thinners and escape their difficult realities for a while.
Most of the female street children have never been to school.
Many had their first sexual experience before the age of 14 and often by as early as eight.
Without guardians, they are excluded from health services and neglected by most available HIV/Aids information and prevention programmes.
Most of the female street children do not know how HIV was transmitted and are also unaware of how to protect themselves from infection.
A documentary on the lives of street children complied by SafAids, revealed that access to contraceptives such as condoms and other family planning methods was a long shot for most girls on the streets.
Some end up buying contraceptives from street vendors or collect expired contraceptives, some that have been used and thrown into the rubbish bins.
Enias Marama, another child protection officer at Cesvi, said it was difficult to help the girls as they only sought medical assistance when it was too late.
“In recent months we lost three girls who were less than 18 years to Aids. This is very painful but the problem is they seek help when it is too late,” Marama said.
He added that his organisation offers education to street children, but most of them shun their overtures.
“If you look at girls on the streets, most of them have children and they don’t have money to look after them. Once guys impregnate the young girls, they run away, leaving them to suffer with their children,” Marama said.
The girls living on the street continue to suffer in silence even as the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child this weekend.