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Refugee child mothers with AIDS

von Jeffrey Moyo


In Zimbabwe’s refugee camps, many young women and girls are sexually abused by older men. This often leaves them pregnant, and many get infected with HIV/AIDS. UNHCR provides treatment for them.

Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge is the largest camp in Zimbabwe. It hosts 10,000 people, many of them from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fransnel is one of them. The 15-year old mother coils herself in her blankets inside her tent, her sickly one-year-old baby with her, flies hovering over mother and baby.

Fransnel came to Zimbabwe at the age of nine without her parents. She lost sight of them when the family fled from armed fighting back home. The little girl made it to Zimbabwe together with other refugees from the DRC. Her ordeal worsened at the refugee camp where much older men sexually abused her. “I have lived a terrible life,” Fransnel says. “At the age of 12, I started selling sex because I was desperate. Much older men took advantage of me because I don’t have parents.”

Now, Frasnel is sick, and so is her child. “Nurses in the camp tested me for HIV and found out that I was positive just before I delivered my baby. Nothing could be done to save her from the disease,” Fransnel recounts. Now they are both on antiretroviral treatment.

But the young mother finds comfort in knowing that she is not the only girl in this situation. Some 80 meters from her tent lives Sonia from Rwanda, who is aged 14 and also already a mother of a four-months-old baby girl. The future looks uncertain for Sonia. “I’m HIV-positive, but thank God, my child is not,” she says.

Although there are no official statistics about the number of refugee child mothers in Tongogara, the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a human-rights organisation based in Chipinge, puts their number at 115. “Of the refugee child mothers here at the camp, 60 % are single mothers, and 30 % are living with HIV/AIDS,” says Claris Madhuku, director of PYD.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has done its best to battle the disease. Its HIV/AIDS committee at the camp promotes voluntary HIV/AIDS counselling and testing. Thanks to the UNHCR initiatives, the camp’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate now stands at only three percent.

Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist and lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.
mo[email protected]

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