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Accounts from “The Less They Know, the Better: Abstinence-Only HIV/AIDS Programs in Uganda”

At the teacher training, we were told not to show [pupils] how to use condoms and not to talk about them at our school. In the past, we used to show them to our upper primary classes. Now we can’t do that.

 —Primary school teacher in Kasese

“. . . Sex before marriage is not only breaking school rules but against religion and norms of all cultures in Uganda and having pre-marital sex is considered a form of deviance. . . . Condoms are not 100% perfect protective gear against STDs and HIV infection. This is because condoms have small pores that could still allow the virus through . . .”

    —Excerpt from a draft U.S.-funded secondary school curriculum, August 2004

The point of [the abstinence program] is that these kids are too young for sex. In our assemblies and in the classroom, we explain what abstinence is and why it is important . . . . But around here, people don’t buy this idea of abstinence, because in Uganda, many girls are using sex to buy their daily bread.

    —Head teacher, Mbale

[My sister] slept with an older man and was given money for it. It was last year. She was looking for a job and found work as a house girl. . . . Her boss followed her and offered her money to have sex with him. . . . I talked to her about the importance of abstinence, but she says she can’t do anything about it. It’s the only way she can make money to survive.

    —Boy orphaned by AIDS in Fort Portal

I had a sugar mommy, she was thirty-two. She found me in the street. I know how to drive, so I used to drive for her. After a while, she began taking me to her place and making me her lover. She spent three and a half months with me. I didn’t like staying with her and having sex with her, but I had nowhere else to go. She was acting as my guardian.

    —Former street boy, seventeen

I wish those who preach abstinence would come down to the slums and see how people are living. Abstinence is a message for the elite. It has no place in the slums. These girls [orphans] live five to a room. There is no supper for them. The man outside says he will get her money and a place to sleep. Now, what is she going to do, abstain? These orphans need assistance, services, and access to protection, not judgmental messages. Better to be delivering services than abstinence messages. Around here, they are a waste of time and money.

    —Youth activist working in Kawempe neighborhood, Kampala

With funding coming in now, for any youth activities, if you talk about abstinence in your proposal, you will get the money. Everybody knows that.

    —Teenager working with youth in Kampala

As an activist and woman living with AIDS, it makes me feel judged. You are supposed to abstain and be faithful. Condoms are only for those who are promiscuous. I got HIV in marriage. I was faithful in my relationship. The battle to come out and be open was a struggle. Now, instead of moving forward, we are moving strides back.

    —Ugandan woman living with AIDS

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