Adolescent girls, illegal abortions and "sugar-daddies" in Dar es Salaam: vulnerable victims and active social agents

Soc Sci Med. 2001 Jun;52(12):1815-26. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(00)00299-9.


Adolescent girls' early sexual activity, early pregnancy, induced abortions and the increase in HIV infections have become major concerns in Sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts, though, to understand their sexual behaviour and to prevent reproductive health problems are almost non-existent. Adolescent girls are normally seen as victims and easy preys of (often older and married) men's sexual exploitation. This article, which is based on a qualitative study of 51 adolescent girls who had just had an illegal abortion in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, reveals that these girls are not only victims but also willing preys and active social agents engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour. In order to get material benefits they expose themselves to serious health risks, including induced abortion - without realising their own vulnerability. In our study, one out of four girls had more than one partner at the time they became pregnant, and many counted on an illegally induced abortion if they got pregnant. Even if adolescents are now allowed free access to family planning information, education and services, our study shows that this remains in the realm of theory rather than practice. Moreover, most adolescent girls are not aware about their right to such services. The paper concludes that the vulnerability of adolescent girls increases without the recognition that sexuality education and contraceptive services do not constitute a licence to practice illicit sex - but rather a means to create more mature and responsible attitudes and to increase sexual and reproductive health.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Criminal / ethnology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / ethnology*
  • Adult
  • Family Planning Services
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence / ethnology*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology*
  • Sexual Partners
  • Tanzania