SEX workers, eager to cash in on every opportunity against a grim economic background where the disposable income of most of their clients has been eroded, have resorted to drugging their toddlers with sleeping pills before sneaking out for work at night.
Many of the sex workers with minor children said they could not afford child minders and had resorted to drugging their children, whom they leave at home in drunken stupors, while they go out at night to solicit for clients.
“I do this because I do not want my child to see me having sex with different men,” a 25-year-old woman from Domboshava, who only identified herself as Tendai, said. “He will grow up without respect for women since we live in a single room.”
Another sex worker from Domboshava, who identified herself as Tatenda, said she sedated her child with antidepressants.
“The pills cause the child to sleep for hours. I simply wash him in cold water if I want to wake him up, because sometimes the child oversleeps. At times I give him cooking oil and Broncleer.”
Broncleer, commonly known as “Bronco”, is a banned intoxicating cough syrup used by substance abusers, who take more than the recommended dosage.
Another sex worker from Epworth said she put her child to sleep by blowing marijuana smoke at him.
“When my child was young I used to smoke dagga,” she said.
“He would get intoxicated from the smoke and eventually fall asleep. He used to suffer from headaches, coughs and teary eyes. I drugged him because I needed to go out and work during the night,” she said.
The sex workers are usually oblivious of the side-effects of some of the substances they administer on the children.
An educational psychologist with the Great Zimbabwe University, Herbert Zirima, said sex workers who drugged their children could be suffering from “antisocial personality disorder” characterised by “a persistent pattern of victimisation of others”.
“These substances slow down brain activity. Commonly used depressants include alcohol and cannabis,” he said.
“These drugs are preferred by the sex workers because they reduce consciousness levels and they also lead to muscle relaxation.”
Edmos Mtetwa, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s School of Social Work, said most frequently used drugs were melatonin, cough syrups, Benadryl, zopiclone and temazepam.
“Some of these drugs are usually used on animals for breeding purposes,” he explained.
“However, due to rapid globalisation coupled with economic challenges facing Zimbabwe, some people, particularly sex workers, are now resorting to giving their children non-prescribed drugs.”
Anti-depressants are used to treat several conditions including depression, mood disorders, agitation and severe behavioural disorders in adults.
Mtetwa said most of the drugs and substances were not suitable for children.
“This coping mechanism is not only illegal, but cruel,” he said.
“It does not benefit the child on whom the drug is administered, but the adult administering it. All psychotropic drugs have the effect of altering a person’s mind, emotions and behaviour.”
Health consultant and Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights chairperson, Rutendo Bonde, said doping children affects their development.
“The major health implication is the high probability of disruption of normal mental, physical and psychological developmental processes within such children,” she said.
Sex work is a growing profession in Zimbabwe and a means of livelihood for many following a court ruling that all, but decriminalised prostitution.
An official in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dorcas Sithole, said the ministry was yet to conduct research on drug abuse due to lack of funds.
“The department dealing with substance abuse has been advocating for a national survey to come up with statistics on prevalence, knowledge on dangers of drug abuse and attitudes. This has not been accomplished due to limited fiscal space,” she said.
“The drug problem in Zimbabwe is a cross-cutting issue, which needs a multi-pronged approach. The Ministry of Health and Child Care works with other ministries and partners in an effort to combat drug abuse. Sex workers drugging their children to attend to night jobs is a matter which we are not aware of. But if supplied with specific information, we will come up with urgent interventions.”