Suffering in Silence: The Links between Human Rights Abuses and HIV Transmission to Girls in Zambia

Summary: Documents the nature of sexual abuse against girls in Zambia, why it continues to happen, and the links with HIV infection. Outlines policies for prevention and details what each relevant organization on the ground is doing (or not doing) to address the problem.

In many countries of eastern and southern Africa, HIV prevalence among girls under age eighteen is four to seven times higher than among boys the same age, an unusual disparity that means a lower average age of death from AIDS, as well as more deaths overall, among women than men. Abuses of the human rights of girls, especially sexual violence and other sexual abuse, contribute directly to this disparity in infection and mortality. In Zambia, as in other countries in the region, tens of thousands of girls—many orphaned by AIDS or otherwise without parental care—suffer in silence as the government fails to provide basic protections from sexual assault that would lessen their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.

Through girls’ own testimonies, this report shows sexual assault of girls in Zambia in the era of HIV/AIDS to be widespread and complex. It documents several categories of abuse that heighten girls’ risk of HIV infection, including (1) sexual assault of girls by family members, particularly the shocking and all too common practice of abuse of orphan girls by men who are their guardians, or by others who are charged to assist or look after them, including teachers, (2) abuse of girls, again often orphans, who are heads of household or otherwise  desperately poor and have few options other than trading sex for their and their siblings’ survival, and (3) abuse of girls who live on the street, of whom many are there because they are without parental care. All of these situations of abuse must be addressed as part of combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zambia. In addition, sexual violence and coercion of girls are fueled by men’s targeting for sex younger and younger girls who are assumed to be HIV-negative or seeking them out based on the myth that sex with virgins will cure AIDS: the phenomenon of “sugar daddies,” unscrupulous older men who entice girls into sex with offers of gifts or money, has been a particular focus of media and other accounts of the impact of HIV/AIDS on girls in Zambia and elsewhere in Africa.

Owner: Janet Fleischman



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