Cross-generational sex fuels HIV/AIDS epidemic

In this age where AIDS has become a biggest health threat to the humankind – the age-old practice of young women having sexual relations with older men has become deadly to the latter.
According to experts, sex between people of different generations is one of the main factors fueling the AIDS epidemic in many countries including the Southern African region.
Girls who are having sex with older men are at risk of contracting HIV. It has been argued that many young girls chose to engage in sexual activities with older men because of poverty.
But in most cases, these men don't normally use condoms as protection measures. They don't think about it. It is the girls who are at risk not the men and the girls normally don't have any voice.
Namibia has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates (the percent of people living with the disease) in the world.
Although recent evidence suggests that prevalence may be starting to decline, the epidemic already poses significant challenges to this Southern African nation and high levels of unemployment and income disparity may further the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Research findings indicate that women are more affected by the epidemic comparing to men.
According to the latest global estimates by the World Health Organisation   (WHO) and UNAIDS, women comprise 50 percent of people living with HIV.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60 percent of people living with HIV. The proportion of women living with the virus has been increasing in the last 10 years.
The majority of young women are not being infected by males of their own age but by “Sugar Daddies” a slang term for men who offer money and gifts to young girls in returns for sexual relationships.
Simone Hälbich, the Gender and Child Protection programme manager at the Lifeline/Childline’s was quoted as saying that relationships between minors and adults are a serious problem in Namibia.
She said the practice known as cross-generational transactional sex, mostly involves minor girls.
“The main element in such relationships is materialistic, where the adult offers the children gifts in exchange for an intimate relationship, which often includes sex,” explained Hälbich.
Young boys in relationships with adult women are rare. But recently, a Swakopmund mother obtained a restraining order against a 36-year-old woman after she found out that her 17-year-old son has been engaged in a sexual relationship with the lady.
The issue of sugar daddies has become a subject of interests by researchers in sub-Sahara Africa as they try to explain the region's alarmingly high HIV rates among young girls.
For instance, cross-generational transactional sex is said to be one of the main cause that spread HIV at the Namibian harbor town of Walvis Bay.
Recent media reports claims that young people especially girls at the town go out with men – old enough to be their fathers.
Some girls are reportedly forced by their parents to go out with men like fishermen so that they can bring some money at home for food.
These fishermen go out with different women and they do not use condoms because they believe that “fresh to fresh” is the way to go. These girls might end up infected with the HIV.
Many AIDS experts believe liaisons between married, middle-aged men and their secret lovers, age 14 to 20, help explain why teenage girls in southern Africa are five times more likely to be HIV-infected than teenage boys.
Experts stressed that these typically brief affairs open up huge networks of infection. Young girls who are looking for support are taking on sugar daddies that are in most cases HIV positive.
These older men don't like condoms and prefer the younger women partly on the belief they'll be pure, or not infected with HIV, but also to gain status among friends, according to surveys of both men and teenage girls in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa by Planetary Science Institute (PSI) researcher John Berman.
The girls often believe that older married men won't be HIV infected, assuming they've been faithful to their wives, the survey found.
The sugar daddies are defined as at least 10 years older than their partners, and the girls surveyed were 14-20. The men sometimes go out with the girls socially and the relationships are kept mostly hidden.
The relationships typically end in a matter of weeks or months when the man loses interests.
In return for these relationships, girls get money they sometimes spend on necessities such as schoolbooks or food, but also on luxuries like trendy clothing, cell phones and hairstyles.
I believe it is high time that we introduced measures to curb the spread of HIV among young people, encourage them to stay away from sugar daddies as well as introducing voluntary testing and suggesting condom distribution at schools.

July 2013
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