This study explored community perceptions of cultural beliefs and practices that may increase sexual risk behaviour of adolescents, to understand more about meaning they hold within the culture and how they expose adolescent orphans and non-orphans to higher risks in a high HIV and teenage pregnancy prevalence context.
Using a qualitative descriptive cross-sectional design 14 focus group discussions were conducted with 78 adolescents and 68 parents/guardians purposively selected to represent their communities. Thirteen key informant interviews were also conducted with community leaders, health care and child welfare workers, and adolescents who were also selected purposively. The two methods were used to explore how cultural beliefs and practices predispose adolescent orphans and non-orphans to risky sexual behaviours. Data were analysed through line-by-line coding, grouped into families and retrieved as themes and sub-themes.
Identified cultural practices that predisposed adolescents orphans and non-orphans to risky sexual behaviours included: adolescent sleeping arrangements, funeral ceremonies, replacing a deceased married daughter with her younger sister in marriage, widow inheritance among boys, early marriage among girls, and preference for boys/sons. Cultural risks perceived to equally affect both orphans and non-orphans were sleeping arrangements, funeral ceremonies, and sister replacement. Factors associated more with orphans than non-orphans were widow inheritance among boys and a preference for boy over girl children.
Adolescent sexual risk reduction programs should be developed considering the specific cultural context, using strategies that empower communities to challenge the widely accepted cultural norms that may predispose young people in general to sexual risks while targeting those that unequally influence orphans.