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Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 14:08 UK

Zimbabwe girls trade sex for food

By Mike Thomson
BBC News, Zimbabwe

A young girl goes through a rubbish tip while carrying a doll (file photograph)
Poverty is robbing many young Zimbabwean girls of their childhood

Growing numbers of children in Zimbabwe are turning to prostitution to survive, the charity Save the Children says.

The aid agency says increasing poverty is leading girls as young as 12 to sell their bodies for as little as a packet of biscuits.

It also claims that the coming football World Cup in neighbouring South Africa could soon make things worse.

Unemployment in Zimbabwe is thought to top 90% and many cannot afford to pay for food, medical care or school fees.

The deputy head teacher of a large school with 1,500 pupils east of Victoria Falls told the BBC that hundreds of her female students are now selling their bodies for whatever they can get.

"It could be books, it could be biscuits, chips, some even just to be given a hug."

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Many Zimbabwean children face terrible risks as part of their everyday lives

Throughout my conversation with the deputy head, two small teenage girls in threadbare school uniforms sat watching from a brick wall by the playground. Both are orphans.

The older one, who is 14, said she knows many girls here who have become prostitutes.

"I don't want to do that but life is so difficult, so very difficult. Both my parents are dead and I rarely see my two sisters. Recently I stood by the river and I thought about throwing myself in but I didn't. I don't know why."

There is also evidence that many girls are being targeted by child traffickers, Save the Children's country director Rachel Pounds says.

They are thought to have plans to send young Zimbabwean girls to South Africa to work as prostitutes during next year's football World Cup finals.



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