1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. Southern Africa
  4. Zimbabwe

OVC may be at greater risk of sexual abuse

Kids in class

Girls who have been orphaned may be twice as likely to experience sexual abuse, according to research from child-friendly clinics in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

Dr Eunice Lyn Garura, director of the Family Support Trust, an NGO operating clinics for survivors of sexual abuse, said 30 percent of the predominantly female clients were orphans who had lost both parents. The Trust runs four clinics, including one in Harare Central Hospital, which caters to some of the city's high-density areas.

Research showed that vulnerability had been exacerbated by government "clean-up" efforts, such as Operation Murambatsvina, which forcibly removed many orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) and their families from their homes and left them living on the street. Greater numbers of children coming to the clinic reported abuse, and higher percentages reported they had been raped or abused by strangers.

Delays in disclosing mean delays in treatment

Almost 90 percent of orphans arrived at Harare Central Hospital clinic too late for post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which must be administered within 72 hours of HIV exposure to prevent infection, said Garura, who presented her findings at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week.

The delay was often due to the children's difficulty in disclosing abuse, usually to older female relatives such as mothers, aunts or grandmothers. "Young children can't verbalise when abuse has taken place, and it takes time for them to disclose," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "Often, we adults don't want to believe this could happen to my child ... there's ... denial."

Teenage girls, the highest percentage of clinic users, were also hesitant to disclose abuse - often by their boyfriends - for fear of admitting to relatives that they were sexually active.

About six percent of the children participating in the research were found to be HIV-positive after suffering abuse, but researchers could not say whether their status was as a direct consequence.

Garura warned that HIV prevalence among the survivors was likely to be higher, as many children were tested in the "window period", before HIV tests were likely to detect infection.

She called for more research on the possible links between orphanhood and vulnerability and sexual abuse among Zimbabwe's children, who were experiencing economic conditions unprecedented in the country's history.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Help make quality journalism about crises possible

The New Humanitarian is an independent, non-profit newsroom founded in 1995. We deliver quality, reliable journalism about crises and big issues impacting the world today. Our reporting on humanitarian aid has uncovered sex scandals, scams, data breaches, corruption, and much more.


Our readers trust us to hold power in the multi-billion-dollar aid sector accountable and to amplify the voices of those impacted by crises. We’re on the ground, reporting from the front lines, to bring you the inside story. 


We keep our journalism free – no paywalls – thanks to the support of donors and readers like you who believe we need more independent journalism in the world. Your contribution means we can continue delivering award-winning journalism about crises. Become a member of The New Humanitarian today

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.