The following was written by Patti Ricotta in response to an article about an AIDS prevention program in Kenya. By providing girls with a few dollars to buy their school uniforms, agencies were able to make a big impact on the AIDS infection rates, as girls were then able to turn away from sex with “sugar daddies” — the only source of money for school uniforms previously. (N.B., school children are required to wear uniforms.)

Patti writes:

If I read the research correctly, it was more than the uniforms that lowered the rate of AIDS in Kenya. It was teaching the young girls that older men (the ones who have money to pay them for sex, and therefore, make it possible to buy, among other things, school uniforms) are the ones who are more likely to infect them with AIDS than were younger men/boys their own age. This vital piece of information gave the girls in the study the chance to consider the cost and choose not to take the risk. Of course, being able to have the money to go to school was their main motivation for having sex with older men anyway, so the free uniform helped to remove the primary need for the transactional sex to begin with.

A very big problem in Africa is that husbands/fathers–the ones who control the family’s money, whether they are the ones who earned it or not–are unlikely to pay for a daughter to go to school if money is tight, and he has sons. I have learned that African men often consider educating their daughters to be investing in another man’s property since he will be selling the girl in marriage as soon as possible (when she can bear children.) African men often do not want an educated girl for a wife, fearing she will have big ideas about a life of her own, become less willing to stay pregnant year after year or stay home and keep hot food on the table for him. A man’s daughter becomes part of her husband’s family after marriage, and serves them, not him. If the father was to spend money on her education he will not benefit from that investment. The son remains close to his own parents and helps to provide for them in their old age, so investing in a son’s education makes perfect financial sense to them. In fairness to these fathers, in a world where there is no old age Social Security, and money is nearly impossible to save for the average family, the bride price of the daugher is often what gives parents the money they need to survive old age. A higher bride price will be gotten for a healthy girl, but not necessarily an educated one.

But this cultural reality does not prevent young girls from desperately wanting an education. When their fathers will not pay for them to go to school, they often end up sleeping with older men who promise to pay school fees in exchange for sex. There are large rings of these men who hire a “madam” to find needy girls with ambition who want to go to school but can’t afford to. They prey on bright, young girls and young women who want nothing more than to make the most of their intellectual potential. These madams can easily infiltrate school yards to look for pretty young girls who need money and want to better themselves. Then, they set up the transfer of school fees for sex. Often the girls don’t know what is going to happen to them when they go “to dinner” with a man who has “shown interest in the girls education.”

It seems that the educational piece in this study (older men carry AIDS more often than young boys/men) plus the uniform, is the combination that is lowering the rate of AIDS in Kenya. Since 2003 Kenya has had a free educational system that is working better than the “free”Ugandan education. The only thing a student has to provide in Kenya is a uniform. In Uganda that just isn’t the case, although in theory, the education is supposed to be free there too.

In Uganda and Rwanda, as in many other African countries, the school uniform is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the cost of education. From primary school on, there are school fees every semester. I support a young girl who is in 4th grade in a government sponsored “free” school. It cost me about $200 a year to educate her. That would be a very large chunk out of the yearly income of the average Ugandan family (about $790 per year.) This girl’s mother is not married and also has 2 sons. She is currently paying school fees for the older boy and is saving for the younger one, who is only 3 years old. She refuses to pay for her daughter’s fees. Carrie is sending 3 girls to college at a much higher rate.

Armed with the information in this study, and provided with the money for school fees, many young girls lives would be saved in Uganda too.

Unfortunately, African girls want an education so badly, that they are sometimes desperate enough to gamble with their lives and their own moral standards to get it. Think about it; could you bear to know that your daughter wanted to be able to use her own mind so badly that she felt she had to have sex with an older–very possibly AIDS infected man, just so she could get an education, and the hope of a brighter future for herself? (How ironic.) We, at EIM, don’t think God wants it that way, and with his help, we are going to play our part to make a difference!

Patti Ricotta