Media ignores the intergenerational sex aspect of sangoma story

  • Kim Johnson - 12 February 2013

Coverage of the marriage of a young girl to a 57-year-old sangoma has failed to consider the story in the context of intergenerational sex, attendant unequal gender power relations and HIV risk.

Last week the marriage of a 13-year-old girl to a man 44-years her senior raised questions around the protection of women and girls in what can only be described as a society that is hostile towards the fairer sex.

These questions have peaked in a crescendo following the brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen only days after reports of the adolescent’s marriage to the elderly sangoma appeared in the newspapers.

The media predominantly approached the “child bride” story from a rights-based angle, questioning the flagrant disregard for the Children’s Act, the Bill of Rights and the Marriage Amendment Act.

And although the legislative and human rights aspect of this shocking situation remain crucial, the media has neglected another very important facet of the story, which lends further gravitas to the case for decisive change.

The relationship between the sangoma and the child bride is characterised by a 44-year age gap, which means that there is an implication that intergenerational sex happened or would have happened (reports have state that a charge of statutory rape is being brought against the man).

Intergenerational sex-defined as sex between people where is an age difference of 10 years or more-particularly between young women and older men, has been identified as one of the key drivers of the HIV epidemic among girls and young women, who are disproportionately affected by HIV in comparison to males of the same age.

The existing imbalance in power between men and women gives rise to and perpetuates intergenerational relationships, which are characterised by female dependency and disempowerment and (often) a corresponding inability to call the shots on condom use.

All the more alarming is the fact that the girl in this case is barely out of her tweens, making the chances of her successfully negotiating condom use even slimmer.

In addition the child bride is also the man’s second wife, which means that the girl has been exposed to a sexual ‘network’ where more than two people are involved, increasing the risk of HIV infection.

This sordid situation represented a chance for the media to bring broader concerns around intergenerational sex and unequal gender power relations to the fore, adding to the human rights aspect of the story and shoring up the case for swift action.

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“The media has neglected another very important facet of the story, which lends further gravitas to the case for decisive change”