Zim sex workers turn to mobile money

Harare - Zimbabwean sex workers are increasingly turning to mobile money when it comes to receiving payments.

Mobile money systems are thriving in Zimbabwe and the companies offering them are expanding the platforms beyond money transfers and airtime purchases.

The country’s three mobile companies – Econet, Telecel and NetOne – all have mobile money platforms. Last year, Econet revealed that it has over four million EcoCash users while Telecel raced to over 600 000 users after launching its Telecash service .

And sex workers in Zimbabwe are turning to mobile money services to receive payments using their cellphones while instant messaging apps are also helping them to market themselves.

“There are regular clients who have no problem paying in advance or just before they come for services,” said one sex worker in Harare’s Avenues area, situated on the outskirts of the central business district.

Another, whose WhatsApp mobile account is only identified as Angelina, says on her profile update that prospective clients can talk to her only after paying $5 into her mobile money account.

NewZimbabwe.com on Monday reported that sex workers request payment through mobile money platforms to prevent clients from trying not to pay.

“Some clients would pay before you offer them sexual services and then after we finish they violently demand their money back,” the online publication quoted one sex worker.

“So I now request my clients to pay via EcoCash or Telecash before I offer them services,” she added.

Talent Jumo, the director for Katswe Sisterhood, a Zimbabwean group advocating for the rights of sex workers in Zimbabwe, confirmed that sex workers in the country are using mobile technology.

"They are being innovative. We want to be careful that its not something that contravenes communication laws.

"They can also use social media to notify those who can fight for their rights when they encounter violence or other problems," she said.

Her organisation deals with about 300 commercial sex workers in Harare, most of whom are now actively participant on social media as a means to communicate and attract clients.

The sex workers are also able to send pictures and videos of cases of abuse or violence to rights campaigners using social media and other instant messaging platforms.

Natalie Jabangwe, an executive at Econet's mobile money platform, EcoCash, declined to comment on the sex workers' usage of the company’s mobile money platform.

However, other mobile money experts in Zimbabwe said as long as users do not violate usage guidelines and regulatory laws, they were free to use the various money transfer platforms.

"We have given them guidelines on ensuring that what they advertise and do on their mobile phones is in line with communications regulations because we don't want them being dragged before the courts by the cellphone companies," said another rights lobbyist whose organisation represents sex workers.

Prostitution is prohibited in Zimbabwe and sex workers often have running battles with police. Sex workers in the country are also victims of abuse, according to gender activist groups.

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