Girls in Zambia Fives Times More Likely Than Boys To Be HIV-Positive Due to ‘Widespread’ Sexual Abuse, Report Says
Girls in Zambia are five times more likely than boys to be HIV-positive due to "widespread" sexual abuse, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch, BBC News reports (BBC News, 1/28). The 121-page report, titled "Suffering in Silence: Human Rights Abuses and HIV Transmission to Girls in Zambia," found that sexual abuse of girls in the country contributes significantly to the spread of HIV and the "strikingly higher" HIV prevalence rate among girls than among boys (HRW release, 1/28). For the report, HRW researchers interviewed nearly 100 girls under age 18 in Zambia in May 2002 and June 2002 at 36 non-governmental organizations, orphanages and other children's centers throughout the country. Researchers found that "several" types of abuse increase girls' risk of HIV infection, including:
- Sexual assault of girls by other family members, including the abuse of orphan girls by male guardians;
- Abuse of girls who are heads of household or "otherwise desperately poor" girls who trade sex "for their or their siblings' survival"; and
- Abuse of girls who are homeless and live on the street.
The report said that the country's criminal justice system does not "deal appropriately" with sexual abuse claims (HRW report, 1/28). "Young girls are preyed upon by older men, including those who dare call themselves guardians or caretakers of these girls, and the government fails to protect them," Janet Fleischman, the Washington director for HRW's Africa division, said (BBC News, 1/28). According to the report, Zambia has in place laws meant to protect girls from sexual assault, but they must be better enforced. In addition, police, health care providers and educators should be trained about how to respond to gender violence and sexual abuse cases. Fleischman added, "The improvements needed to enforce existing laws against sexual abuse are not costly compared to many other elements of AIDS programs. The government and donors have a chance to make a dent in the hyper-epidemic of HIV transmission among girls by making their protection a priority." The report concludes, "As the ranks of orphans continue to grow sharply, this silence and effective complicity within families bodes ill for Zambian society's ability to confront an epidemic that has favored women and girls" (HRW report, 1/28). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.