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Sexual exploitation of adolescent girls in Uganda

Briefing/policy papers

Written by David Walker, Paola Pereznieto

​The phenomenon of cross-generational sex – defined as sexual relationships between an adolescent and a partner who is older, usually by 10 or more years – can be linked to many immediate and life-long negative consequences for both girls and boys. These can include entering into transactional sexual relationships – one in which the exchange of commodities and obligations can be considered as payment – as well as increased exposure to major health risks and several foregone opportunities. In development studies and other disciplines, the study of these exploitative relationships has largely been neglected, or examined as a public health issue – most often with respect to HIV&AIDS. Systematic examinations of cross-generational sex as a child protection issue – in which the impacts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation are highlighted – are negligible, and are desperately needed to help development practitioners understand the issue and find long-lasting solutions. 

This study therefore seeks to understand the multiple and overlapping reasons behind cross-generational relationships in Uganda, as well as associated interventions, in order to promote more comprehensive responses to the issue. Through on-the-ground research we explore the consequences of adolescent experiences of these exploitative relationships, and analyse the extent to which policy and programming are currently failing this phenomenon. In particular, the research looks at the extent to which income poverty collates with discriminatory social norms in Uganda which contribute to this particular form of child protection violation.

The study is part of a two-year Oak Foundation-funded programme of work that explores the potential for greater linkages between child protection and anti-poverty work in low- and middle-income countries. It is one of three country case studies that looks at sexual violence and exploitation, physical violence, early marriage and inadequate care, and their relationship to income poverty in Uganda, Ethiopia and Vietnam.

David Walker, Paola Pereznieto, Grace Bantebya, and Eric Ochen