August 2, 2012
Cross-generational sex, particularly between older men and younger women, is a main reason females account for 60 percent of southern Africa's HIV cases, according to experts.
"It's one of the means for HIV transmission, especially men that have their spouses but they go out with these younger ladies," said Linda Chongo, of Mozambique's National Network of AIDS Service Organizations. "As money rules, the person with the money will be the one who will impose the rules to be taken. It is quite difficult to negotiate safe sex when you are already in a lower position."
Even young women who are aware of the HIV risks often become involved with older men, said Stuart Chuka, a Malawi AIDS treatment program coordinator. "One of the reasons is that the young women do not have the capacity, more especially because of finances," to provide for themselves, he said.
But Chongo said poverty only partly explains the phenomenon. "If you look into Africa you will see that poverty has always been there, but our grandmothers and mothers didn't behave the way we are behaving now," she noted.
Zimbabwe officials are developing campaigns discouraging what are known as "small houses" - long-term extra-marital affairs between older men and young women, as compared to the "big house" where a man's wife resides. "As part of our ongoing campaign to prevent new infections, we are designing posters to discourage age-mixing in relationships," said Beauty Nyamwanza, a National AIDS Council program officer.
After South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province recorded an increase in teenage pregnancies linked to sex with older men, it put up 89 billboards highlighting the dangers of cross-generational sex and created support groups to help young women resist such relationships.