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South Africa – almost one in three schoolgirls HIV positive

Thursday, 14 March, 2013

New figures have been released at South Africa’s National Council of Provinces, which reveal that at least 28 percent of schoolgirls are HIV positive in the country, compared to just 4 percent of boys. Disproportionate levels of HIV prevalence between boys and girls are being blamed on a culture of ‘sugar daddies’; older men sleeping with young girls. Speaking at the event, Health Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, commented: “it is clear that it is not young boys who are sleeping with these girls. It is old men. We must take a stand against 'sugar daddies' because they are destroying our children.”

The ‘sugar daddy’ phenomenon, which is also referred to as ‘intergenerational sex’ or ‘transactional sex’, often involves an older man trading sex with a young woman in return for ‘gifts’, such as paying their school fees or buying them airtime. The power imbalance in such relationships makes it very hard for young women and girls to negotiate safe sex, resulting in high rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy.

South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in world, with an estimated 5.6 million people living with the virus in 2011. The HIV and AIDS epidemic has had a devastating effect on the country and has placed severe strain on its health system. While HIV prevention messages are widespread in South Africa, high levels of sexual violence and social norms around masculinity and sexual entitlement often make it hard for women to protect themselves from HIV.