By A Correspondent- A study has revealed that there could be rampant backyard abortions by desperate teenagers who indulge in risky sexual activities during Vuzu parties in Bulawayo.
The study entitled ‘Exploring the practice of Vuzus among young people in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe was conducted by Aids Healthcare Foundation (AFH) in partnership with Grassroot Soccer (GRS).
A total of 122 young people were recruited into the study, all drawn from different areas in Bulawayo and the youngest being 15 and the oldest being 24 years old.
Of those, 77 were female and 45 were males.
Some said they participate in Vuzu parties just to trend on social media and gain popularity.
Findings show that absenteeism of parents and guardians often lead them to participate in the parties.
The parties are characterised by alcohol and drug use, sexual activity and usually in secretive gatherings by young people although there are adults who are always keen to provide the venue, drugs and alcohol so that they can take advantage of young girls.
Drugs used include cocaine, meth, lack widow, marijuana, weed cakes, shisha and cough syrup.
The parties are commonly referred to as booze, naked party, orgy party, pool party, rave, emasofeni, turn up, cashtime, get together and house party.
Teenagers in Bulawayo are known to organise these drugs and alcohol-fuelled parties where they engage in sex marathons and other risky behaviours oblivious of the dangers, they put their lives in including unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections like HIV.
Respondents highlighted that during sex marathons, condoms are not used leaving them at a risk of contracting STIs and falling pregnant.
The get-togethers, which are known as Vuzu parties although the source of that word is unknown, often lead to unprotected sex and anti-social behaviour.
Speaking during the launch of the findings of the study GRS country manager Mr Bekimpilo Moyo said Vuzu parties appear to be very common in Bulawayo although the extent to which they have persisted through Covid-19 restrictions remains unknown.
He said a majority of those who attend indicated that they had attended the parties many times ranging from five to 50 times.
“Drug and alcohol abuse are defining characteristics of Vuzu parties and many young people say they partake in order to have fun. Drugs used include cocaine, meth, black widow, marijuana, weed cakes, shisha, cough syrup among others,” said Mr Moyo.
He said they also noted with concern that extreme power dynamics were at play as respondents said older male attendees provide younger female participants with drugs and alcohol to lower their inhibitions and make them lose control.
“Sex workers also attend Vuzu parties and one respondent highlighted that she engaged in transactional sex at Vuzu parties,” said Mr Moyo.
Motivating factors for attendance include peer influence and seeking outlets to relieve stress emanating from home as well as an opportunity to engage in sexual activity.
“There are also concerns about the future consequences of the heavy drinking and drug use at Vuzu parties. One youth respondent noted that his greatest regret of attending the parties was addiction and that some of the girls fell pregnant during the marathons forcing them to conduct abortions with the help of older women as they did not even know who was responsible for the pregnancies.”
He said Vuzu parties are also deemed as an outlet for stress relief from socio-economic problems at home.
Young people also reported that they attend the parties to make money, either through selling drugs or transactional sex.
“When asked about times that they were invited to a Vuzu party but did not attend, youth respondents gave a variety of responses, falling largely into two categories. Curfew or parents being present at home was one reported barrier as well as a lack of transport or pending house chores,” said Mr Moyo.
Some respondents indicated that they lacked money to attend, or that they didn’t have proper clothes to fit in at the party.
“Young people recommend that parents, older residents, police and church leaders should lead a campaign to address Vuzu parties with religious leaders providing spiritual guidance to young people. Using the police to suppress such parties could potentially save a lot of young people from the disastrous effects of Vuzu parties,” said Mr Moyo.
He said other young people requested for risk reduction approaches to Vuzu parties making them safer places with condoms readily available which would make these parties cooler spaces to chill.
Young people further suggested that such parties change venues from secretive to public places and from nights to afternoons.
AHF foundation country programme manager Dr Ernest Chikwati said the study was meant to ascertain what was fuelling the parties, age groups involved and the activities associated.
He said Vuzu parties were not a Bulawayo phenomenon as they are being conducted countrywide but with different names.
“We have discovered that these parties are quite prevalent and it is not only youths who attend sex parties but also adults who are hungry to take advantage of adolescents. Some said they can sleep with five to 10 people per day and its unprotected sex which is very risky,” said Dr Chikwati.
He said there was a need to look at how to address this as youths were saying they do not have enough entertainment and sports facilities where they can have fun.
“We need to revive Ubuntu in the community where we are all responsible for the wellbeing of every child. We have people who do not care to report that Vuzu parties are being held near or next to them,” said Dr Chikwati.
He said going forward, an all-stakeholders meeting will be held to form a committee that will ensure the issue of Vuzu parties is addressed.
“These parties fuel HIV transmission as stated by respondents who say they can have sex marathons without the use of condoms. We need to come together as stakeholders, communities and even politicians and tackle this scourge,” said Dr Chikwati.
Bulawayo provincial Aids coordinator Mrs Sinatra Nyathi said the study was an eye opener for the community especially parents and guardians who must play their part to protect the adolescents.
“We are grateful to our partners who helped us conduct this research and it is clear that these parties are prevalent in the city. As Bulawayo we will unite to come up with a way forward and engage churches, media, parents and all our partner organisations to tackle this challenge,” said Mrs Nyathi.
She highlighted the need to give adolescents a chance to speak out without judgment so that relevant interventions are crafted.
“HIV infections are still rife, these Vuzu parties have also fuelled pregnancies leading to backyard abortions and this leads to maternal deaths.