Teenage South African girls will be paid R500 a month by President Jacob Zuma’s government if they abstain from sex. World Bank money will finance the programme that is intended to reduce HIV transmission in an impoverished country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence rate.
This idea was first implemented by King Mswathi’s government in Swaziland nearly three years ago and South Africa’s MInister of Health, Mr Aaron Motsoaledi, said if South Africa introduced the same initiative, the nation will save over R2 billion per year in ARV, HIV and Aids treatment and social welfare costs related to HIV and Aids.
“The government will pay girls the allowances so they will have money to purchase necessities and can turn down money offered to them for sex,” said Khanyi Malume, a health care worker in Manzini.
The Finance minister’s office will administer the payouts under the leadership of newly appointed Finance Minister Malusi Gagaba. A pilot programme will be conducted to test the effectiveness of weaning teen girls from older “sugar daddies” who offer money in exchange for sexual favours. Details have to be worked out such as how the girls will be monitored to ensure they are not having sex.
A source in Zuma’s Nkandla village has however denied rumours that the financial payouts to girls to avoid sex were designed to ensure an HIV-free population of South African virgins who could be President Zuma’s future wives.
The polygamous President currently has 5 wives and last year King Mswathi offered President Zuma another wife, a virgin and it was against this background that allegations saying the R500 payouts could be meant to help Zuma get his 6th wife from Mzansi virgins has seen the light of the day.
Studies have found that among the general South African population girls and young women aged 18 to 24 are most at risk of becoming infected with HIV. Poverty and lack of female empowerment in the traditional society are cited as reasons for girls’ vulnerability to the sexually-transmitted diseases.
The South African National Aids Council tasked with co-ordinating Mzansi’s Aids response, has issued statements in the local media citing the need for initiatives to discourage girls from having sex because of economic need.
One teenager in Noth West province, Zodwa Mangumba, 16, said R500 was not sufficient to discourage girls from accepting gifts from older men to have sex.
“Today’s girls need things, like airtime for our cellphones. R500 is not enough. That is how much government gives my gogo (grandmother) each month and she will never get Aids because no one over (the age of) 50 has to have sex,” she said.
Another girl, Thandi Twala, 17, a Durban high school pupil, noted, “A girl could get R500 for just one sex act with an ordinary businessman. Government must pay more if they want us to remain virgins.”
When told the allowance was not intended to put a price on sexual activity but to help make girls independent of the need to take gifts and thus be better able to safeguard their health, she said: “You don’t know Mzansi girls. If they don’t get more money they will keep on doing what they do now, even the Christian girls.”