Officials in Buyende district, Eastern Uganda, have raised concerns about the increasing prevalence of cross-generational relationships within their fishing communities along Lake Kyoga’s shores. These relationships, characterized by a ‘sugar daddy’ syndrome, involve young women engaging in sexual relationships with much older men, resulting in health risks and adverse consequences for the young women.
Buyende district, located 166 km from the capital city, Kampala, has a population of 320,468 people primarily engaged in farming and fishing. The district boasts an 80 km shoreline with mobile communities that shift based on fish availability in the region.
Emmanuel Waigulo, the district’s Senior Community Development Officer (CDO), noted that fishermen who move to the district often engage in a lifestyle marked by “Water, Wine, and Women,” yet they do not relocate with their wives. Adolescent girls have become susceptible to these fishermen due to their willingness to accept money in exchange for sexual encounters, with sums ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 Ugandan Shillings ($0.55 to $1.37 USD) at landing sites.
The launch of a campaign to end child marriages and teenage pregnancies on October 26, 2023, shed light on these issues. Women are relocating from various areas within the district to landing sites due to the financial incentives offered by fishermen in exchange for sexual relationships.
This practice has resulted in significant challenges for the district, including a high rate of teenage pregnancies at 28%, forced childhood marriages, school dropouts, and the spread of diseases, especially HIV and AIDS. Neglected children also pose a concern, as men frequently return to their places of residence after impregnating girls.
The district’s battle against cross-generational relationships is exacerbated by factors such as poverty, low literacy levels, and cultural norms that promote polygamy. Many believe that a man should have multiple wives and children, often leaving them unable to provide for their offspring.
Cases of childhood marriages and teenage pregnancies often go unreported as parents and immediate neighbors are frequently involved in these offenses. The district aims to empower communities to report cases and bring offenders to justice.
Angela Bakibinga, a senior resident prosecutor in Buyende district, highlighted the importance of age in determining whether cross-generational relationships are criminal. If a girl or boy is below the legal age of consent, it is automatically considered a crime. Settling cases out of court is a challenge, and Bakibinga urged local leaders not to allow negotiations in cases of defilement and rape.
Jenifer Ayesiga, the District Police Commander of Buyende, noted that negotiations often occur when a girl is defiled, leading to the reporting of cases only when negotiations fail. Police conduct community sensitization to raise awareness of the dangers of teenage pregnancies and child marriages and plan to engage schools and churches in this effort.
Andrew Kanywanyi, the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) head for Buyende district, pointed out that girls are often found loitering late at night, exposing themselves to potential dangers. Security agencies investigate cases like gang rape but emphasize the need for cultural leaders, churches, and politicians to join the fight against these injustices.
To combat this issue, the district government and Plan International Uganda have launched a year-long campaign called ‘End Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancies.’ The campaign aims to involve girls in discussions with stakeholders to champion their rights and seek solutions to the problem.
Arnold Kasujja Kintu, the deputy Resident District Commissioner for Buyende, emphasized the government’s initiatives to eradicate poverty through development programs, which can reduce people’s involvement in cross-generational relationships. He also stressed the importance of parents taking responsibility for educating their children.
Michael Kanaku, the district chairperson, highlighted the government’s efforts in promoting women’s emancipation. Joseph Lomongin, the district Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), discussed plans to address water scarcity and create safe learning environments for girls to reduce school dropouts.