Suffering in silence: the links between human rights abuses and HIV transmission to girls in Zambia

Case Studies & Research
New York
Human Rights Watch
128 p. + 5 p.

The catastrophe of HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in Africa, which has already claimed over 18 million lives on that continent, has hit girls and women harder than boys and men. 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.

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