“Sugar daddies bribing parents of young girls”, (The Times, 30/03/2011, p.6) is an article selected for a GLAD.

Older men who are known to “buy” children with money and gifts in exchange for a sexual relationship, and who are otherwise known as “Sugar daddies,” are a subject that people often tend to shy away from. However journalist Nivashni Nair, unpacked and highlighted this issue, where children often feel obliged or sometimes forced, including by parents or other family members, to remain in these relationships. The pressure can stem from a family’s fear that the material things they’ve received as a result of the relationship will be taken away once it has ended.

The Times did extremely well by highlighting this phenomenon which is faced by too many children in South Africa, by telling the stories of two young women both aged 18, and by not revealing their identities.

The article is written in a manner which gives the two young women’s perspectives on how it feels to be caught in a situation, where they feel they can’t leave the “sugar daddies” as they’ll upset their parents. It highlights the pressures of sustaining such a relationship that may come from family members and parents. These young women believed that if they stay, they get to keep their parents happy but sacrifice their own happiness in the process.

Underlying issues such as poverty and guilt play a vital role in this story. It shows how as a young teenager, who sometimes does not know any better, it is appealing to accept gifts or money without considering or understanding the potential consequences. If a man showers a young teenage girl, who lives in poverty, with things she could only dream of, it is understandable that she would be tempted to accept and enjoy them.

The report also included research findings that formed part of a campaign in Kwa-Zulu Natal which indicated that “young girls had become HIV/AIDS carriers by dating older men.” By interviewing these two women, the journalist linked these statistics to real stories.

We can think of a number of examples where adult women may feel pressurized by virtue of receiving a gift from a man, for example dinner, or even a drink in a bar. That considered, the dynamic between a child who feels indebted to an adult man must be even more difficult to navigate.

The lives of the two young women in this story give the impression that these girls live a life that is similar to prostitution as they are essentially exchanging sex for material objects. The article also gives the reader a sense that the girls feel like they no longer have a choice in this matter. “He has bought me a car and now this means I have to stay with him forever” one of them was quoted as saying.

Children are considered to be those under the age of 18 for the very reason that they might not be mature enough to make an informed decision about their lives. Media Monitoring Africa congratulates The Times for digging into this issue and the complexities that come with it.

It is clear from reading this article that everyone, including parents, caregivers and friends of children, need to be aware of the realities which exist, and work harder to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

The protection and care for children should always be paramount in everything we do.