AIDS and Behavior

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 627–635 | Cite as

Sexual Risk Behavior among South African Adolescents: Is Orphan Status a Factor?

  • Tonya R. ThurmanEmail author
  • Lisanne Brown
  • Linda Richter
  • Pranitha Maharaj
  • Robert Magnani

There is concern that orphans may be at particular risk of HIV infection due to earlier age of sexual onset and higher likelihood of sexual exploitation or abuse; however, there is limited empirical evidence examining this phenomenon. Utilizing data from 1694 Black South African youth aged 14–18, of whom 31% are classified as orphaned, this analysis explores the relationship between orphan status and sexual risk. The analysis found both male and female orphans significantly more likely to have engaged in sex as compared to non-orphans (49% vs. 39%). After adjusting for socio-demographic variables, orphans were nearly one and half times more likely than non-orphans to have had sex. Among sexually active youth, orphans reported younger age of sexual intercourse with 23% of orphans having had sex by age 13 or younger compared to 15% of non-orphans. Programmatic implications of these findings for the care and protection of orphans are discussed.

Key words

Orphans South Africa First sex Sexual abuse HIV risk behavior Survival sex Transactional sex 



This was a collaborative research project of the University of Natal-Durban School of Development Studies, the HORIZONS Project and the Policy Research Division of the Population Council, and Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine under the auspices of the FOCUS on Young Adults and MEASURE-Evaluation Projects. This research was supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the Horizons program (under the terms of Cooperative Agreement No. HRN-A-00-97-00012-00), the FOCUS on Young Adults Program (CCP-3-73-A00-6002-00), the MEASURE/Evaluation Project (HRN-A-00-97-00018-00), and by a Rockefeller Foundation Grant to the Population Council's Policy Research Division. In addition to the partners and supporters of this research, we also extend great appreciation to the young South Africans who responded so willingly to these questionnaires. All those who conducted the interviews deserve a special thanks for their dedication and professionalism through the study period. I also wish to thank Janet Rice, Ph.D. for her statistical guidance. Lastly, we thank the anonymous reviewers and journal Editor for their useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tonya R. Thurman
    • 4
    Email author
  • Lisanne Brown
    • 4
  • Linda Richter
    • 1
  • Pranitha Maharaj
    • 2
  • Robert Magnani
    • 3
  1. 1.Human Sciences Research Council and University of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa
  2. 2.School of Development StudiesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa
  3. 3.Family Health InternationalJakartaIndonesia
  4. 4.Department of International Health and DevelopmentTulane School of Public Health and Tropical MedicineNew OrleansLouisiana

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