2. UNEQUAL LIFE CHANCES & HIV INFECTION
While developing countries in Asia, Africa and Southern and Central America vary in terms of culture, religion and socio-economic factors, young people living in them share a number of experiences which render them particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. Access to education and information is often limited, levels of literacy lower, and poverty is more prevalent. Young people living in poverty, or facing the threat of poverty, may be particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation through the need to trade or sell sex in order to survive (World Health Organization, 1998).
Estimates suggest that as many as 100 million young people under the age of 18 live or work on the streets of urban areas throughout the world (Connolly & Franchet, 1993). Many are at heightened risk of acquiring STIs including HIV. More than half of 141 street children recently interviewed in South Africa, for example, reported having exchanged sex for money, goods or protection, and several indicated that they had been raped (Swart-Kruger & Richter, 1997). Street children in Jakarta, Indonesia, have reported that being forced to have sex is one of the greatest problems that they faced living on the streets (Black and Farrington, 1997). In Brazil, where it is estimated that 7 million young people live on the streets, between 1.5 to 7.5% of those tested for HIV are infected (Filgueiras, 1993). In addition to risk from unprotected sexual activity, rape and coercion, the high prevalence of injecting drug use on the streets in Brazil and some other countries may heighten young people's vulnerability to HIV (Filgueiras, 1993).
It is important to recognise, however, that children and young people who live and work on the streets of urban areas, do not commonly list HIV/AIDS as an over-riding concern. Instead, the day-to-day need for shelter, food and clothes take higher priority (Swart-Kruger & Richter, 1997). For young people struggling for daily survival, a disease like AIDS, which may or may not kill them in years to come, can seem unimportant (Finger, 1993).
It is not only the most socio-economically deprived children and young people in developing countries who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Other young people living in precarious economic circumstances report having been forced to exchange sex for material benefit. Two thirds of 168 sexually active young women recently interviewed in Malawi, for example, reported having exchanged sex for money or gifts (Helitzer-Allen, 1994), and eighteen per cent of 274 sexually active female Nigerian University students reported that they have exchanged sex for favours, money or gifts (Uwakwe et al, 1994).
Sometimes, the exchange of sex for goods and money may be regularised in the form of what have been called 'sugar daddy' and 'sugar mummy' relationships. In Tanzania, for example, young girls not infrequently reported having older men or Mshefas (those who provide) as sexual partners (Fuglesang, 1997). In Kenya, young girls report that they are courted by older men seeking sex, and may find themselves in situations which it is difficult to negotiate a way out of (Balmer et al, 1997).
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]