Grants Reduce Teen Girls HIV Risk from ‘Sugar Daddies’

Grants Reduce Teen Girls HIV Risk from ‘Sugar Daddies’

Why are teen girls in Africa two-to-three-times more likely to be infected with HIV than teen boys?

Turns out, in many cases, the blame comes down to “sugar daddies” – older men who pay teen girls for sex. The girls agree because they need the money for food or for school fees. Older boyfriends are more likely to be infected with HIV, and the girls are less likely to ask them to use a condom than they would with boys their own age, according to an All Africa report.

A three-year study by Oxford University found that when the girls’ families received government grants, the incidences of “sugar daddy” relationships dropped dramatically, along with HIV rates among teen girls, the report said.

The South African government gives child support grants to very poor families – approximately $35 per month for child support and $95 per month for foster care children – reaching a total of nearly 12 million children.

Researchers from universities in South Africa and the U.K. conducted face-to-face interviews with 3,515 teen girls from urban and rural families that received grants. They also followed up with 97 percent of them one year later.

Girls whose families received government grants were two-thirds less likely to take an older boyfriend. Although this study was conducted in South Africa, similar results were found in trials conducted in Malawi and Tanzania. The South Africa study is is significant, however, because it evaluated real-life grants rather than those in a controlled trial, the report said.

Grants are not a complete solution for the high rate of HIV. They don’t appear to reduce teen boys’ rate of infection, though their rate is lower than the girls to begin with. And unfortunately, grants don’t keep teen girls from having unprotected sex or sex when they are drunk, according to the report.

“Child support grants do not make teenagers more sensible when it comes to safer sex,” said Prof. Mark Orkin of the School of Public and Development Management, at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.