Part 2: The sexual exploitation of adolescent girls in the Kanungu District, Uganda: barriers to the implementation of the “Sugar Daddy Awareness” lessons

Issues in the Country

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa and today, is one of the poorest nations in the world. In 2014, it was estimated that around 95,000 people were infected with HIV in Uganda. Specifically, in the southwest region, the 2011 AIDS Indictors Survey indicated that HIV prevalence increased from 5.9% in 2004/5 to 8.0% in 2011 and to 8.4% in 2012 in the Kanungu District. Of these figures, 3.7% of young women and men aged 15-24 were HIV-positive. In this age group, just under half of males who have multiple partners actually use condoms and only 38.1% of young females and 39.5% of males have a correct comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS; this increases exposure to risky sexual behaviour.

Unprotected sex puts young women at danger of HIV/AIDS and unwarranted pregnancy; hence, Uganda has a high teenage pregnancy rate and HIV prevalence. Since little awareness has been raised about the laws and policies on abortion in Uganda, especially for poor young women living in rural areas, it sometimes leads to unsafe abortions and, irrespectively, girls drop out of school. In the Kanungu District, the situation of teenage pregnancies, as a result of sugar daddy relationships, has heightened the spread of HIV/AIDS ‘as more teenage girls are forced to settle with older men’. Therefore, “Sugar Daddy Awareness” (SDA) lessons, on the topics of condom usage and the risks of cross-generational sex, is significant.

Background of the SDA programme

The SDA programme is built on ABC and PIASCY, the existing government strategies, together with the SDA Campaign, which was initiated by the non-governmental organization, Uganda Sexual Health & Pastoral Education (U-SHAPE) and assisted by the charity, Volunteer Uganda (VU). The programme intends to inform children, both girls and boys who are in their penultimate year (P6) and last year of primary school (P7) in the Kanungu District, of the risks associated with cross-generational/transactional sex. This approach has practical goals of increasing adolescents’ knowledge of HIV/AIDS and condom usage, as well as the strategic goals of reducing HIV/AIDS transmission risks, unwanted teenage pregnancies and early marriage. Through SDA, girls are empowered to say no to sex until marriage, and are encouraged to complete school.

The executed SDA initiative in Uganda is a revised version of the “Relative Risk Information Program” (RR) on sugar daddies, which was carried out in two rural districts of western Kenya as part of the schools’ syllabus.

‘During the training, teachers discussed the material in the official HIV/AIDS curriculum and learned how to discuss HIV/AIDS issues in class. Teachers were also trained on how to set up a health club in their school, to encourage HIV avoidance through active learning activities such as role plays. Finally, they were given the latest estimates of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the region of study’.

The RR programme is based on a 40-minute session, conducted by an NGO worker of International Citizen Service. Its design consists of scripts and resources to elucidate the risks of cross-generational relationships – between sugar daddies and young girls. Evidence from this programme suggests that sugar daddy awareness classes changed the sexual behaviour of adolescents in contrast to the national HIV/AIDS curriculum which promotes an abstinence-only message. ‘The relative risk information led to a 28 percent decrease in the likelihood that girls started childbearing within a year’ and teenage childbirths with men who were at least five years senior. Teaching young people sex education in schools therefore lessens incidences of unprotected sex and improves use of contraceptives. Thus, my study intended to discover how teacher training was executed in the SDA initiative in Uganda.

The provision of SDA lessons was first deliberated at a community outreach meeting in March 2014 which was attended by health workers from Bwindi hospital, religious and community leaders, the local district education officer, the schools’ inspector, pastoral leads and teachers from 30 primary schools in Kanungu. Using a micro-projector, they were shown the UNICEF film, entitled ‘Sara: The Trap’, which illustrates the risks of sugar daddy relationships and, the findings from Kenya. During this time, teachers were open to embracing the same plan in their own schools and were even conferring provisional lesson structures – of presenting adolescents with local data about the risks of HIV in conjunction with stimulating classroom activities that are limited resource-friendly. As the SDA programme incorporated a participatory approach, the full involvement of the local community, children, teachers and families in planning and implementation was encouraged so that the programme can be sustained from the bottom-up.

The SDA lessons were piloted in 16 of the 30 primary schools (8 government, 8 private) across the Kanungu District in 2015 – one male member of U-SHAPE staff is assigned to the teachers. Presently, 60 teachers are being supported through the Pastoral Lead Network. In hindsight, SDA classes should run for two hours. The U-SHAPE staff member covers each school at least once a year to initially introduce SDA to the new P6 and P7 classes. Subsequently, the facilitator must go back each year to teach the next P6 and P7 class; hence, the need for teachers to be fully trained and supported. From the last school engagement meeting in February 2016, which are held on a quarterly basis and train teachers in SDA, only 5 teachers expressed that they felt confident in running the SDA sessions without support from the facilitator.

Research Objective

My main research objective was to elicit accounts from the teachers, schools’ inspector and facilitator of the SDA programme, in relation to their experiences and understandings of the SDA lessons, in order to uncover the barriers to implementation. I intended to explore the following research questions:

  • What difficulties are teachers facing in implementing the SDA lessons?
  • How have the ABC and PIASCY policies influenced the implementation of the SDA initiative?
  • How have contextual factors (economic, social, political, cultural) shaped the implementation process?

Justification of Study

This study intended to bridge the gap in existing research as the introduction of this SDA initiative by U-SHAPE is the first of its kind in rural Uganda. Published implementation studies of school-based sex education programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa are scarce. There are currently no published studies which specifically investigate problems of SDA implementation. For policymakers, researchers and education specialists, my results present how the SDA programme has actually been received by educators, their involvements in teaching the SDA lessons and sex education, the logistical and practical role that U-SHAPE has played in supporting primary schools, and teachers’ attitudes on the issues of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies and early marriage in the local area. U-SHAPE, as of yet, have received no funding from the government or other stakeholders. In understanding the barriers faced by teachers in conducting the SDA lessons, and thus finding ways to overcome them, the SDA initiative has the potential to be rolled out in schools as a nation-wide sexual and reproductive health education programme.