In a village in Nyazura in Manicaland, young children indulge in role-playing games – commonly called “mahumbwe” – like kids all over Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, for a 13-year-old girl, who we shall call Rudo, that role-playing led to a life changing encounter.
Mimicking what she and her friends had seen at home, Rudo – at age 14 – engaged in sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old boy as part of mahumbwe and contracted HIV.
Her mother recalls spending huge sums of money on drugs, traditional healers and prophets when Rudo’s healthy started declining.
“First was a terrible fever, then a persistent cough and skin rashes. Nobody thought it could be HIV considering that no-one in the family is HIV-positive. It was after I took her for a full blood test that we were told she was positive,” she said.
Upon probing, the mother – who we will identify as Monica – said her daughter told her of sex during mahumbwe.
“Performing the roles of a mother to a family during their games, she was having sexual intercourse with different boys, who acted as fathers,” said Monica.
Role playing games are major aspect of childhood development. It is how they make sense of the world around them and start adopting gender roles that their particular society promotes.
Sadly, HIV and Aids awareness has not found space in these games.
Health consultant and HIV and Aids testing counsellor Dr Melba Sibanda says the probability of a minor passing on HIV to another is high.
Many children engage in sex when role playing, and because their bodies are not hormonally ready for intercourse, much bruising may occur, raising the possibility of transmission of infections.
Sexual reproductive health specialists are of the view that menarche, the onset of menstruation, also determines minors’ vulnerability during sex.
Dr Sibanda says girls can begin menstruating as early as age 8.
“At 11, Rudo as you have explained, was at high risk if the boy was HIV-positive, as they allege, and if there were seminal fluids contact,” she said.
Dr Sibanda believes children below the age of 13 have been neglected when it comes to HIV and Aids issues.
Most data and interventions concentrate on mother-to-child transmission and children born HIV-positive. After that, focus is on teens. Little attention, it seems, is being paid to children born HIV-negative and who are aged between eight and 13.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include a drive to ensure zero HIV infection by 2030.
This will remain unattainable for as long as there are gaps in awareness campaigns.
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