There is a high prevalence of sex work among youth living in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, which is linked to elevated rates of HIV, alcohol use and rape, according to a study by the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.
Researchers involved in the study surveyed more than 1,000 youth ages 12 to 18 who were living in the slums or streets of Kampala in 2014. The results are published in AIDS Research and Treatment in an article, titled “Prevalence of HIV and Associated Risks of Sex Work among Youth in the Slums of Kampala.” The study’s lead author is Dr. Monica Swahn, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics.
The survey data showed that, of the youth who had ever had sexual intercourse, 13.7 percent reported being involved in commercial sex work. Most of the reported sex workers are young women, and a vast majority reported inconsistently or never using condoms.
Nearly one-quarter of youth who have ever engaged in sex work reported having HIV. The HIV rate among all Ugandan youth, ages 15 to 19, is estimated to be 2.4 percent.
In addition, 16.3 percent of the youth sex workers in Kampala reported never having been to school; 90 percent reported consuming alcohol; and 67.9 percent reported being raped—triple the rate of youth not engaged in sex work.
“Youth living in the slums of Kampala are an especially vulnerable population as they may lack supportive social networks and family support and are exposed to a range of risks that exacerbate their disparate living conditions,” the study noted. “In addition, these youths have limited access to resources that ameliorate these risks.”
The survey data also showed that being an orphan was significantly linked to a youth’s involvement in sex work. More than 44 percent of youth sex workers in the study reported having no living parents.
“Youth who are orphans face unique additional challenges, which may include a lack of nurturing and support from caretakers, food and shelter insufficiencies, and a lack of supervision,” the study said. “Nearly all of the youth report being paid by money for sex, which indicates the youth relying on sex work as a source of income for survival.”
The study’s authors also included School of Public Health PhD student Ms. Rachel Culbreth, and Dr. Laura Salazar, professor of health promotion and behavior at Georgia State, Rogers Kasirye of the Uganda Youth Development Link; and Dr. Janet Seeley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Read more about Dr. Swahn’s research involving the slums of Kampala, Uganda: