SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

South African grants reduce HIV risks for teen girls

Government grants in South Africa can reduce HIV risks for teenage girls, according to a study recently published in The Lancet Global Health.

One of the major causes of HIV infections among young girls in sub-Saharan Africa is the presence of sugar daddies, older boyfriends who give money or food or pay for school fees in return for sex. Such men are more likely to be HIV-positive and their young girlfriends are less able to request the use of a condom.

According to the study, which was led by Oxford University, the risk of sugar daddy relationships is significantly reduced in households receiving child support grants. The study found that teenage girls from households receiving grants were two-thirds less likely to take much older boyfriends and half as likely to have sex in exchange for money, food or school fees.

"This study shows that as long as they are given enough money to survive, girls will choose not to have a sugar daddy," Lucie Cluver, the lead author of the study, said. "It also shows how valuable it is to give not only to younger children but also to teenagers, who are most at risk of HIV-infection."

The South African government currently provides a child support grant of approximately $35 per month per household to 11 million children under the age of 18, and a foster child grant worth $96 per month to an additional 600,000 households. The grants currently reach approximately 70 percent of eligible children.

According to the study, if the grants reached all potentially eligible children in South Africa, approximately 77,000 new relationships of teenage girls with sugar daddies could be prevented annually.

"Child support grants do not make teenagers more sensible when it comes to safer sex," Mark Orkin, a professor from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said. "But what they can do is to provide enough financial security for girls that they do not have to choose their sexual partners through economic necessity."