Community perception as a driver of cross-generational relationships among adolescents in Central Uganda
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Cross generational relationships have been used to explain the discrepancy in HIV infections between adolescent boys and girls. There have been a number of mass media campaigns aimed at mitigating the negative outcomes of these relationships including HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, and school dropout amongst others. These efforts have however based themselves on the assumption that adolescents are not aware of the risks involved and are passive victims of the practice ignoring the different attitudes and beliefs that shape the adolescents’ decisions. The study explores community perceptions as a driver of cross generational relationships among adolescents. The study adopted a cross-sectional research design which included both survey and ethnographic methods and was carried out among 200 in and out of school adolescents in Masaka and Kampala districts. The study revealed that first, cross generational relationships is a concept more familiar to female, urban and in school adolescents and that communities understand the concept differently with differing constructs of what constitutes the ages differences, the duration of such relationships and whether they are acceptable or not. Secondly, adolescents perceive the relationships as both beneficial and risky and that the decision to engage is based on critical weighing of the benefits and risks thereby making adolescents active and not passive participants in the relationships. Thirdly, through cultural beliefs and practices like bride price, arranged marriages, polygamy and promotion of masculinity respect, gender shapes the attitudes, beliefs and practices of girls and communities towards cross generational relationships. The study therefore recommends that efforts should be made to ensure that the diverse meanings are considered and that the focus should not be on sensitizing about the risks but rather equipping them with skills and knowledge to ensure safety in the sexual engagements. In addition there is need to address negative cultural practices such as early and forced marriages as in the short run and addressing female poverty and emancipation in the long run.