Background: Evidence of a link between sexual violence and HIV is growing; however, studies among children are scarce. The authors sought to characterise child sexual abuse in Harare, Zimbabwe, and explore its links with HIV and orphanhood.
Methods: Records for new clients attending a child sexual abuse clinic from July 2004 to June 2005 were computerised and reviewed. Information on characteristics, medical examinations, laboratory tests and perpetrators were summarised. Orphan prevalence was compared with Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2005/2006 data for Harare, and a household-based survey in a neighbouring community.
Results: Over 1 year, 1194 new clients (90% female) aged 7 weeks to 16 years were assessed, with 93% of boys and 59% of girls classified clinically as prepubertal. 94% of clients reported penetrative sexual abuse, occurring most often in the child's home. Most perpetrators were identified as relatives or neighbours by children under 12 years, and 'boyfriends' by adolescent girls. At presentation, 31/520 (6%) clients tested were HIV-positive. Where recorded, 39 (6%) clients presented within 3 days of abuse, and 36 were given postexposure prophylaxis for HIV (PEP). Among female clients, orphan prevalence was higher than in the DHS (OR=1.7; 1.4 to 2.2) and neighbouring community (OR=1.7; 0.7 to 4.3).
Conclusions: High numbers of children in Harare experience penetrative sexual abuse, and most present too late for PEP. More immediate presentation of sexual abuse can help to prevent HIV and recurrent abuse, and assist in examination and prosecution. Orphanhood emerged as a possible risk factor for sexual abuse and an important area for further research.