KIGALI, RWANDA – It’s Friday afternoon at Groupe Scolaire St. André, a secondary school in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Students are headed home for the three-week spring holiday.
Clad in white shirts, khaki skirts and trousers with yellow sweaters, the nearly 700 students, who range in age from 11 to 20, gather excitedly. They talk and wave their newly received report cards. The students are jovial and looking forward to the start of their holidays.
Most say they will spend time with their families, eat tasty food and have fun with friends. But the reality is that school vacation also brings many social problems, especially for young girls.
The first challenge on this Friday afternoon will come for hundreds of students in the capital who live outside the city. They must find transportation home with their luggage from boarding while school is in session.
Rwanda is made up of five provinces. Most provinces are at least three hours from Kigali, where most students come to school. Transportation to the most remote provinces can cost up to 6,000 francs ($10), a substantial sum considering nearly 80 percent of the population lives on less than 750 francs ($1.25) a day in Rwanda, according to UNICEF.
Older men known as “sugar daddies” wait in the wings on these busy travel days. They offer rides, cell phone use, food and other commodities to young girls in exchange for sex.
Educators, parents and students say that these sugar daddies prey on female students, especially when they are en route home for school holidays. Hikes in transportation fees during holidays and by unscrupulous drivers also leave students more vulnerable to accepting rides from sugar daddies.
Authorities say that interaction with sugar daddies can lead to cross-generational sex and rape, which can result in unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The government, nongovernmental organizations, schools and parents have been working together to protect female students. One in 10 girls here has her first sexual experience with a man who is at least 10 years her senior, reported the Rwanda Behavior Surveillance Survey in 2006.
HIV prevalence in Rwanda is higher among older men than younger men, jumping from less than 1 percent among men ages 15 to 19 to 8 percent among men ages 40 to 44, according to the 2010 Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey.
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