Infamous beer halls in Norton scooping all: Young people, men and women

Norton is a multi-cultural society with citizens of Malawian, Zambian and Zimbabwean descent and an estimated population of 80–100,000 people. There is only one hospital and one clinic and according to the Norton District AIDS coordinator, the town is a hot spot for HIV prevalence. Some of young people who attended the dialogue had no idea that the two health centres have youth friendly zones and as a result, their uptake of sexual and reproductive health services is low.

Interesting discussions with the community revealed a significant increase in the number of beer halls in their town, despite the absence of other community services and this is having a negative impact on the incidence of gender-based violence in the town.

Of particular concern is a beerhall called Apple Yard, which allegedly allows girls as young as 10 to 15 years to sneak their way in. Community members claimed that the beer hall is attracting all age groups, who spend most of their time there. One of the women attending the dialogue raised concern that female street vendors operating near the beer halls are acting as pimps, linking young girls with older men and receiving payment of one dollar for every young girl they link up. Although girls under the age of 18 are not allowed to loiter around the beer hall, the pimps make sure they connect these young girls to men in the beer halls for transactional sex.

Poverty has been cited as the key driver of this behaviour among adolescent girls and young women. Another woman stated, ‘’ some parents from this community have gone to the diaspora leaving their children behind. These children are also sneaking their way into the beer halls because they do not have money’’. Such child-headed families leave children vulnerable to sexual exploitation

Another concerned father noted, “The problem with these young girls is that they are not paid a lot of money. They usually charge one dollar for two people bedding them”. No matter how little the money is, girls sacrifice themselves to get them. ‘’I am afraid of the health conditions of these young girls, because they are given money in exchange for sexual favours and they do not have the power to negotiate for safer sex’’. This increases the risk of adolescent girls and young women contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The Norton community sees the beer halls as a major catalyst fuelling high risk sexual behaviours and domestic violence among the population. High levels of unemployment mean that men and women of all age groups have little to occupy their time and as a result, many spend time in the beer halls and sports bars, which offer entertainment like pole dancing and young female strippers. Some women complained that their husbands are now neglecting their families, whilst spending their scarce money on small houses and strippers.

It was also reported that men are targeting adolescent girls who have graduated from the girls initiation schools (chinamwari), who know how to dance seductively in front of men. These young girls are using these tactics to lure men in the beer halls. It is also believed that when older men know girls who have attended the initiation classes, they target them for sexual gratification.

One of the fathers expressing concern on the behaviour of people

A father notes, ‘’Most of our children here in Norton get married when they are still young. These young married men usually spent most of their time at the beer halls while neglecting their wives. At the end of the day they do not satisfy their wives.’’ As a result, these young wives then look for partners outside their marriage to satisfy their sexual desires. This trend of having multiple concurrent partners leads to disputes and a rise in domestic violence in the community.

At the end of the discussion, parents wanted to hear the voices of young people on why they are so eager to spend most of their time in the infamous beer halls. A form 6 student stated,’’ lt is in the young blood to feel the vibes and enjoy to the fullest and sometimes we tend to lose our morals on the way’’.


A young girl expressing her views

The young people turned the tables by suggesting that it is the duty of the community to establish safe and secure social entertainment areas for young people to enjoy, if they do not want them to frequent the beerhalls.

The community agreed that there is need to continue engaging each other on issues of GBV and HIV risk behaviours and to confront each other as they arise. No one must keep quiet when they see violence being perpetrated. Police and the community must work together to address the issues of high incidence of GBV in Norton. Stakeholders committed to reducing GBV by reporting using the existing community referral system.

SAfAIDS will assist in HIV and AIDS, sexual health information dissemination to young people through IEC material distribution, awareness campaigns targeting the community (young people, adolescent girls, men and women) and to prioritise near beer halls. SAfAIDS and stakeholders agreed that young people should be linked to livelihood activities such as Income Generating Activities to minimize issues of unemployment and poverty. Young people to be connected to the SAfAIDS Young4Real page and Positive Talk face book page to get more information about their Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights issues to discuss, connect and share issues with other young people.

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