Mother-of-two Nyasha, desperate to put food on the table for her family back home in Zimbabwe, turned to sex work in neighbouring Mozambique after being told that it was a surefire way of earning United States dollars.
“The money is little, but if I save it properly I will be able to send groceries that will sustain my family for some days,” the 23-year-old told Agence France-Presse in the central Mozambican town of Chimoio.
“We can not find jobs back home and here we do not have identification papers and that is why many women have opted for prostitution,” she added.
Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown has driven millions from the country in search of a better life, but the sleazy hotels over the border in Mozambique show the pitfalls for many migrant women.
Hotel Madrinha in Chimoio used to be a respectable cheap hotel for travellers on a budget but is now full of Zimbabwean women who have a reputation for offering “the cheapest rates in town”, says one local.
“I got the information from friends that prostitution is a lucrative business in Mozambique and that one can earn US dollars,” continued Nyasha.
“I decided to come, but I have not earned any real dollars.” Chimoio is located less than 200km from the Zimbabwean border and is a stopping off point for truck drivers en route for neighbouring countries Malawi and Zambia with Mozambique’s port of Beira.
The influx of prostitutes has begun to worry organisations working in the sexual health sector, says Faruk Aboobakar, a senior officer in a non-governmental health initiative called the Geracacao Biz programme.
“We have a problem here,” he said, referring to an increasing perception among locals that most Zimbabwean women in the area are sex workers.
Fortunately, in terms of sexual health, Aboobakar said that investigations showed most of the women insisted on the use of condoms.
Julia Alfredo, a 25-year-old mother of three who lives near the hotel, says she is concerned about the impact of the influx of Zimbabweans on her children.
“We are afraid our children will think every Zimbabwean woman they see is a sexual worker,” she said.
“We accept they are having problems in their country but resorting to this type of life is not the solution, they need to find other means of earning a living.”
The women who spoke to AFP said they were drawn by the possibility of earning money to send home, but most of them struggled to earn the equivalent of $20 (€13) a day.
At times they get paid as little as 50 US cents for sex acts.
The Zimbabwean economy has collapsed in the last decade, with inflation now running at 165 000% and the unemployment rate at 80%.
The free fall came after veteran President Robert Mugabe embarked on a controversial land reform programme that saw thousands of white-owned farms expropriated by the state.
While in their native Zimbabwe women selling sex could be arrested, Mozambique laws do not consider prostitution as a criminal act.
Mildred, a 33-year-old single mother of three, says she was ashamed when she started out as a prostitute but she has since got used to the demands of the profession.
“I had never dreamed of sleeping with men for the sake of money or gifts. But now life is tough in Zimbabwe and in order to survive one needs to be innovative,” she said, asking to be identified only by first name. – AFP