Sugar Daddies and Sugar Mommies are not so sweet, according to Rwanda's Ministry of Youth, which has recently launched a campaign discouraging transactional sex between young and old partners.
Rwandan teenagers giggle and point at a poster hanging over a traffic-choked intersection in Kigali's city center. An older woman is caressing a school-aged man, her lips formed into a sloppy kiss. In response, the young man extends both hands to relay a defiant "no."
The sign reads: "I am not for sale." "Say no to the Sugar Mommies." "They are the enemies of Rwanda's bright future. "
This concept is the basis for a six-month national campaign against adults called Sugar Daddies and Mommies who entice Rwandan youth to have sex with them in exchange for mobile phones, money, and other gifts. This is a common occurrence in a country where one in every 10 girls have their first sexual experience with a man more than 10 years older than them.
The multimedia campaign dubbed "Sinigurisha", which means "I am not for sale", discourages such transactional sex, which has been linked to a spread in HIV infections and unwanted pregnancies.
This is especially the case among Rwandan females aged 20 to 24 who are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than males of the same age. The project was launched by Rwanda's Ministry of Youth in collaboration with Population Services International and the National AIDS Control Commission.
Analysts attribute Rwanda's increase in cross-generational dalliances to a lack of available partners due to population drain from the 1994 genocide against Tutsis. Rwanda's Minister of Youth, Protais Mitali, says though this may account for some cases, many of these sugar daddies and mommies who exploit children are currently married.
Mitali says the responses to this campaign have been mixed in a country where sexual matters are a discrete affair, but says it is his duty to press this issue publicly before it becomes an epidemic.
Mitali says kids and adults have told him he is wasting his time and that they will not change their ways. The Minister adds young people say this is not only how they get money or goods, but it is their own will.
It is responses like these, says Mitali, which have inspired him to financially mobilize Rwanda's youth by introducing them to programs to help them acquire the technical skills for innovation and job creation. The hope, he says, is for young Rwandans to finally understand their self worth, thereby creating a brighter future for the developing country.