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International News

For Ugandan Girls, Delaying Sex Has Economic Cost

August 20, 2003

Lillian, a 16-year-old Ugandan slum dweller orphaned by AIDS, studies hard, picks here friends carefully, is wary of bad influences, and is so committed to avoiding AIDS that she has become a leader in her school's Straight Talk Club, which promotes abstinence. Yet the biggest threat to Lillian's virginity may not be her hormones or those of her peers, but her empty pockets and her ambition.

Sex starts early here for a variety of reasons. There is the sexual curiosity that stirs in young people everywhere. Marriage for young girls is common as well, with girls dropping out of school, often to become an older man's second or third wife. Sex also presents an opportunity to make money where young women find few jobs available. Poverty can weaken even those with the most resolve.

Benjamin Wamusiru, an English teacher who leads the abstinence club at a local school, said remaining abstinent "is difficult with all the pressures in society.... It's toughest on the girls."

Dreaming of college, Lillian struggles to pay the fees required of all secondary students here. Tuition is about $30 a month. Recently, some of the cousins with whom she has lived since the death of her uncle -- who cared for her after her parents died until he, too succumbed to AIDS -- have begun pressuring her to raise money by selling herself.

Lillian's latest school bill came to about $90. She did not know where she would find the money. "It's difficult for me to say what I'll do," she said glumly.

If she did have sex, she said, her resolve weakening, it would not be about love, because marriage would end her education. And she would try to remember everything the club had taught her. She would use a condom and hope that the man would be kind. "If it was a single man who wasn't married, if he had a good character, maybe I'd consider it," she said. "It would be for my future."

Back to other news for August 20, 2003

Adapted from:
New York Times
08.18.03; Marc Lacey

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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