RWANDA: Sugar daddies and mummies have bitter consequences
Campaign poster outside the National University of Rwanda, Butare
kigali, 2 July 2009 (IRIN) - A new HIV prevention campaign in Rwanda – "Sinigurisha" (I am not for sale) – warns against cross-generational sex involving both older men and older women.
"Sexual relationships between girls and older men [sugar daddies], and boys and older women [sugar mummies] – often in exchange for gifts and money – are very prevalent in Rwanda," said Claire Bisamaza, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Youth, which is leading the campaign.
Since late May, 85 highly visible billboards across the country have reminded young people of their right to say no to "Shuga Dadis" and "Shuga Mamis"; messages in various other media also caution against cross-generational sex, which has been linked to HIV transmission and unplanned pregnancy.
"It is crucial to act now," stressed Bisamaza, citing a 2006 Behavioural Surveillance Survey in which 12.1 percent of girls in Rwanda reported having their first sexual experience with men at least 10 years their senior. Young people are estimated to constitute over half the population.
Research by the National AIDS Control Commission (Commission Nationale de Lutte Contre le Sida, CNLS) suggests similar relationships exist between boys and older women. "Focus group discussions conducted in all five provinces confirmed that young men are also at risk," said Dr Anita Asiimwe, executive secretary of CNLS.
The Sinigurisha campaign targets both males and females, but it is young women who are most at risk: a 2005 Demographic Health Survey put HIV prevalence among females aged 15 to 24 at 1.4 percent, three times the rate among young men the same age.
The survey also found that young women aged 20 to 24 were five times more likely to become infected than young men in this age group, and older men were more likely to be HIV positive than young men. As a result, the campaign's organisers believe that many new HIV infections among young women are due to cross-generational sexual relationships.
"There are pupils at my school who go about with sugar daddies, who teach them about sex very early," said Scoler Zaninka, a high school student in the capital, Kigali.
Besides peer pressure and a permissive environment, the campaign identifies economic need as a major driver of cross-generational sex. "When children can't get something at home, like a [cell]phone, some go to these sugar daddies and sugar mummies and get it from them," Zaninka added.
"Gifts don't equal sex"
|There are pupils at my school who go about with sugar daddies, who teach them about sex very early
In Butare, 100km south of the capital, a billboard at the entrance of the National University of Rwanda's main campus carries the key campaign message: "gifts don't equal sex". Students acknowledge that some of them are forced into transactional sexual relationships to finance their studies.
"These methods of self-financing can lead to premature sexual activity," said Patrick Tuyisenge, a final-year law student. "But in a society where the subject remains taboo, this campaign is good because it directly warns both young and older people against such behaviour."
The campaign's messages are also being broadcast in television and radio spots, and publicized via printed materials and community events, while orange wristbands announce that the wearer is not for sale.
Designed by CNLS and funded by the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the campaign has received technical support from Population Services International (PSI) Rwanda, a social marketing company.
"Cross-generational sex is having a negative impact on Rwandan youth, in terms of their health and their economic and social development," said Bisamaza.
"Problems resulting from such relationships can jeopardize their future, and in turn hamper the development of Rwanda."