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They are so small they seem to disappear amid the dozen Zimbabwean boys crowded around them along the trash-choked drain. Sofia Chimhangwa, a year-old in a denim skirt, lies on the concrete under a filthy blanket. Her year-old friend sits next to her, braiding a legless Barbie's hair. Sofia says she survives because the other girl's year-old boyfriend helps feed them both when the coins they beg don't stretch far enough.
I know that," Sofia said. Her big sister helped her get to the border from Zimbabwe's capital Harare. After eight months in this border town, Sofia is not ready to go home because she cannot yet take money back to her widowed father. She is among an increasing number of young Zimbabweans setting out on their own to escape their homeland's economic ruin, bringing both a child's naive sense of invincibility and a grown-up desire to help their families.
International aid group Save the Children says some Zimbabwean youngsters are in Musina today, compared to about 50 five years ago. But those committed to helping these children are increasingly anguished over one question: Where are the girls?
Aid workers say they don't see enough Sofias - teenage girls - to account for the number that men, women and boys say they accompanied across the border. Some disappear as maids or "wives" into homes around this dusty mining town split by railroad tracks.
On one side of the tracks are the crowded "locations" where Blacks were forced to live under apartheid; on the other are the neighborhoods of broad roads and large houses still predominantly inhabited by whites. Other girls hang back in the shadows at Musina's truck stops at night along with older prostitutes. There are fears that traffickers are recruiting girls into the sex trade in Johannesburg, some kilometers miles south, and other South African cities. As the representative in Musina of Lawyers for Human Rights, Sabelo Sibanda tries to ensure Zimbabweans aren't illegally detained or deported before they can apply for refugee status.