With the subject being very taboo on the continent, it is unclear just how widespread the Sugar Daddy/Sugar Baby phenomenon is in Africa, but it is thought to be very high.
Young girls (age 17) who were interviewed all expressed that is was “not a big deal anymore.”
“Girls my age are doing it, for sure,” said one, who wished to remain anonymous. “I know it’s not a good idea, but if you’re getting everything you want from him, you don’t think about other things,”
All girls interviewed admitted to knowing someone who was involved with a Sugar Daddy. Health campaigners are laying blame at the feet of these cross-generational relationships for playing a major role in the high HIV infection rate among young women in sub-Saharan Africa.
But the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS is not on the priority list of the young women interviewed – their primary concerns were violence – from angry wives discovering these Sugar Baby’s were sleeping with their husband and getting money too, as well as violence from their own peer boyfriends and disapproving parents.
They also cited pregnancy and emotional abandonment by the Sugar Daddy and their own family members as additional issues. They risk of STDs and HIV/AIDS came in lowest of all and naively admitted to thinking their Sugar Daddies were restricting their activities to just them and their wives.
Unsurprisingly the only concerns the Sugar Daddies have is their wives finding out and the subsequent breakdown of they own family.
According to a study of Sugar Daddy/Sugar baby relationships, between 12 percent and 25 percent of young women’s partners in sub-Saharan Africa were 10 or more years their senior.
In Kenya 25 percent of men over the age of 30, who reported non-marital partners, had a partner at least 10 years younger.
More concerning is the high risk faced by young African women to HIV infection. Studies show that HIV infection in women aged 15 to 24 is much higher than for men in the same age bracket. The study also reported low condom use.
“These young women are not in a position to negotiate condom use with older men,” explained a researcher. “Girls are still embarrassed about using them, so if a man does not initiate it, it becomes difficult.”
This was backed up in the focus group interviews, where the girls admitted they would rather give in to their Sugar Daddy’s objection to using condoms than lose the residual benefits these relationships bring.
Africa hasn’t escaped the increasing migration towards a materialistic society, which is being attributed to the rise in Sugar Daddy relationships.
“Schoolgirls see older wealthier men with the ‘three Cs’ [a car, a cellular phone and cash] as an avenue where they will be able to attain material goods,” said Shardia Nania, a volunteer counsellor for the Family Life Centre – a South African NGO offering life skills training at schools in disadvantaged communities. “Its so sad to see them selling their destinies for trivial things such as clothes, a better type of sanitary pads and fast-food meals.”
The benefits of deep pockets and gifts were also echoed by the girls who were interviewed:
“Of course the guys always have money, otherwise there’s no point,” said an interviewee. “My friend got a nice Nokia 8310 [cellular phone] for her birthday.”
Coupled with peer pressure, it makes it very difficult for the Sugar Babies to resist entering such a relationship. For many poor girls, this may be the only income they can generate to support themselves and their families.
“These are the girls who are looking for the bare necessities to ensure their survival – food to feed themselves and the rest of their families,” Waithaka said. “There is always a bigger picture – we can’t paint them as villains, but we can’t see them as innocents either.”