‘Mum never loved me.’ How structural factors influence adolescent sexual and reproductive health through parent–child connectedness: A qualitative study in rural Tanzania

  • Joyce Wamoyi
  • Daniel Wight


Research in high income countries shows parent–child connectedness to be protective against undesirable sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes among young people. Little has been done to understand the nature of parent–child connectedness, the structural factors that impact on connectedness and parents’ understanding of how connectedness affects their children’s sexual behaviour in sub-Saharan Africa and Tanzania in particular. Ethnographic research involved 30 days of observation in 10 households, 9 focus group discussions and 60 in-depth interviews. Thematic analysis was conducted using NVIVO qualitative data analysis software. The structural factors with greatest influence on connectedness were economic circumstances, gender, social status, state education, and globalisation. Economic circumstances impacted on parent–child connectedness through parents’ ability to provide for their children’s material needs, and the time their occupation allowed for them to spend with their children and monitor their activities. Appropriate parent–child interactions were shaped by gender norms and by social status in the form of respectability, adolescents’ adherence to norms of respect/obedience shaping their parents’ affection. State education affected parents’ preferences between children but also undermined parental authority, as did broader globalisation. Connectedness was related to SRH in a bi-directional way: lack of connectedness was linked to young people’s low self-esteem and risky sexual behaviour while unplanned pregnancies seriously undermined young women’s connectedness with their parents. Since material provision was perceived to be a central element of parent–child connectedness, structural factors limiting provision made transactional sex more likely both through direct material pathways and emotional ones. Motives for transactional sex were said to be material needs and to feel loved and cared for. An important pathway by which structural factors shape adolescent SRH outcomes is through parent–child connectedness, especially parents’ ability to spend time with their children and provide for their economic needs. Modifying these structural factors should facilitate parent–child connectedness, which may help delay early sexual intercourse, protect young people against unplanned pregnancy through encouraging communication on contraception use and, overall, promote healthy adolescent development.

Keywords: ASRH, parent–child connectedness, parenting, structural factors, sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania

African Journal of AIDS Research 2014, 13(2): 169–178

Author Biographies

Joyce Wamoyi
National Institute for Medical Research, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health, PO Box 1462, Mwanza, Tanzania
Daniel Wight
Medical Research Council, Department of Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow, G12 8RZ, UK

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445