The risks of intergenerational relationships

Gender equalitySocial issues

Notes to broadcasters

Intergenerational relationships are any type of relationship between individuals of different generations. They could be relationships between parents and children, between grandparents and grandchildren—in short, between older people and the younger generation. In this script, we are going to focus on relationships between young women and older men. There are many risks in this type of relationship because of the age gap and gender difference, both of which create a power imbalance. In these types of relationships, the older partner typically has more influence and control. As a result, the younger partner faces consequences such as early and unplanned pregnancies because she lacks the power to negotiate for safer sex or family planning methods. She may also suffer mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

In this radio script, we will talk to three people: an expert in intergenerational relationships, an expert in youth advocacy, and a young woman who has suffered some of the consequences of intergenerational relationships.

If you want to make programs on this topic, you could talk to an expert on intergenerational relationships, an expert in youth advocacy, and a young woman who has been experienced this type of relationship. You might ask the following questions:

  • What has been your experience of intergenerational relationships?
  • What are the risks of such relationships?
  • What could be done to prevent young women from entering into this type of relationships?

Duration of program, including intro and extro: 25 to 30 minutes.


Hello and welcome, listeners! This is Grace Kapatuka. I am here again with another program on issues affecting the younger generation. In the program this afternoon, we will discuss the risks of intergenerational relationships and how young people can deal with them.

Today, I will take you to one of the districts in Malawi where youths are facing many challenges due to intergeneration relationships.

I will first speak with Mrs. Thokozani Ng’ombe Mwenyekonde, the project delivery lead for iHEARD, a project of Farm Radio International, CODE, and Marie Stopes International that is being implemented by a variety of NGOs in Malawi. The project aims to empower adolescent girls to make decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health. Thokozani starts by talking about intergenerational relationships.

Thokozani Ng’ombe Mwenyekonde:

I will talk about intergenerational relationships in the context of a young woman going out with an older man. Young people in Malawi define intergenerational relationships with the term “blesser.” “Blessers” are men who provide something to young girls and young women, usually money or material goods. There is a kind of symbiotic relationship between the two people, with each getting something they need or want and giving something in return.

So what is the relationship between a “blesser” and the topic we are discussing in the program today?

There is a big connection with intergenerational relationships since these young people are with partners who are not their age due to the possibility of benefiting from material gain. Most of the time, this is money or material goods.

Adolescent girls do this for different reasons. Some young people have lost both parents and do not have any support from relatives. Others are in colleges and need support for school fees or basic needs. For them, having a “blesser” is the only way to survive. When they look at how their friends are benefitting, they also start engaging in such relationships.

Others do it for fun, not because they lack anything—and because others are doing it. Most of the time, these young women have opportunities in life, but they engage in these relationships just to get some luxuries that they want. Maybe they want a special mobile phone because their friends have it.

What are the risks of such relationships?

Young people face many challenges in such relationships. One of the risks is infection transmission. When I say infection transmission, I am talking about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Enjoying sexual and reproductive health and rights means that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the ability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. This includes the right of men and women, including adolescent girls and boys, to be well-informed about these kinds of issues and to have access to the safe, effective, affordable, acceptable, and legal family planning methods of their choice, along with the right to access appropriate healthcare services.

But in intergenerational relationships, young people do not have the power to negotiate with their older partners for safer sex because everything they do is controlled by the “blesser.” What the “blesser” decides is final.

They cannot demand, for example, that the “blesser” wear a condom or that they use family planning methods like pills, implants, or injectables. So they put their lives at risk.

For the same reason that they cannot negotiate for safer sex, they are prone to early or unwanted pregnancies. In most cases, they experience pregnancy plus sexually transmitted infections. If they are lucky, it’s just the infection. In the end, the “blessers” usually deny responsibility for the pregnancy or run away when their young lovers fall ill.

Are there other risks from intergenerational relationships?

Another one is reputational risk and discrimination. If young women are perceived as going out with a “blesser,” they risk being criticized by peers or perceived negatively by other members of society, especially adults. Generally, this kind of behaviour is perceived as bad in Malawian society and those involved are considered to be immoral.

At some point, these young women may want to get settled and married. But if they have a reputation of going out with a “blesser,” no one would want them for a wife. So by having an intergenerational relationship, they compromise their reputation and future relationships.

Another risk is gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is a big problem in Malawi and affects many young people. Adolescent girls in a relationship with an older man are exposed to gender-based violence since they do not have the agency or power within the relationship to fight for what they want. So they are often physically and emotionally abused or forced into sex against their will. Even if they consent to sex, they may be required to do something they think is weird, for example oral or anal sex—something that they don’t want or didn’t enter into the relation for. So they end up getting more than what they bargained for.

Intergenerational relationships can have psychological impacts. For example, the societal disapproval and potential isolation associated with these relationships can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety for the younger person. In this kind of relationship, young people are often forced to do things against their will and so they live in conflict. They know that what they are doing is wrong, so they don’t do it happily but just to survive. So they often find themselves battling mental health issues.

Also, intergenerational relationships can take away valuable time and energy that young women could invest in their education, career, and personal growth.

And, depending on the age difference between partners and the legal age of consent in a given jurisdiction, intergenerational relationships can raise legal complications, including statutory rape or sexual exploitation of minors. In some cases, these relationships may even be illegal and subject to prosecution.

If you have just joined us, welcome. In today’s program, we are talking about the risks of intergenerational relationships and how to address them. Our guest is Thokozani Ng’ombe Mwenyekonde, the project lead for the iHEARD project in Malawi.

Having heard about the risks of intergenerational relationships, do we have any solutions to this? What are the positive behaviours that can overcome these situations?

My message to young people is that they should develop positive behaviours that help them become independent or self-reliant.

For example, young women can be engaged and economically empowered through activities such as tailoring, carpentry, soap making, and learning business skills.

Let us persevere as young people, be hard-working and engage with people who can support us financially as opposed to taking risky routes that will get us into trouble.

We can also try to manage our peer relationships well so that we don’t give in to peer pressure. Some of the risks I have discussed are social and can be avoided if we develop positive behaviours, so we need to manage our peer relationships well, and of course work hard both at school and in life.

Thank you very much, Thokozani Ng’ombe Mwenyekonde for your insights.

Dear listeners, also joining me in the program today is the coordinator of an organization in Kasungu, central Malawi, called Shorten the Distance. His name is Walusungu Gondwe and he will also talk with us about the risks of intergenerational relationships. Welcome to the program, Walusungu.

So what are some of the risks of intergenerational relationships?

There are many risks associated with intergenerational relationships, one of them being a difference in life goals. When people’s life goals are different, this can result in conflicts.

There is also a difference in careers and career options between the generations, and this can bring confusion. These days, the younger generation may want to do what they feel is marketable, while the older generation wants them to do things the way it was done before.

There are risks associated with the difference in the level of responsibilities, with the younger generation having fewer responsibilities than the older generation.

There can also be conflicts over living arrangements. The older generation may be comfortable anywhere, but the younger generation is always looking forward to luxurious living arrangements to suit their aspirations.

Another risk could be differences in cultural values. While the older generation values and respects traditional cultural values, the younger generation may not. They feel that the world has changed and keeps on changing every day and issues of culture are slowly losing favour with time and are no longer recognized.

Having heard the risks, what do you think is the way forward to address them?

First of all, I would say that having an open mind and respect for one another is one was to address this. When the two generations are willing to learn from one another, they will be better able to reach a compromise on issues affecting them.

Secondly, the two parties need to show unconditional love to each other so that peace continues to prevail in society.

They should share perceptions so that they understand one another. They must also consider generational values. The older generation must understand that the new generation is doing things differently than the way they used to do it. The younger generation also needs to understand that the older generations does things differently.

That was Walusungu Gondwe, coordinator for the Shorten the Distance organization in Kasungu, Malawi.

Moving on with the program today, we have another guest with me. and her name is Chimwemwe Nankhuni. Chimwemwe is a survivor of an intergenerational relationship and is here today to share what happened to her. Welcome to the program and please introduce yourself.

Chimwemwe NANKHUNI:
My name is Chimwemwe Nankhuni and I a mother of one. I have a daughter whom I gave birth to when I was 19 years old.

So, Chimwemwe, please explain why are you here with us on the program today.

Chimwemwe NANKHUNI:
I am here because I want to share what happened to me with my fellow young people, especially women. In 2021, I was selected to pursue further studies at a public university in Malawi. Everything started normally. As time passed, I started going out with my friends and enjoying night life. I started taking alcohol because all the friends I was going out with were taking alcohol. With time, my behaviour changed and I became a lost child. Luckily, my parents didn’t know what was going on.

So, Chimwemwe, what made you change your lifestyle?

Chimwemwe NANKHUNI:
I was carried away by peer pressure. I started envying my friends who had “blessers” and went out every weekend—I thought that was life. I joined them and found my “blesser” in the process.

What happened then?

Chimwemwe NANKHUNI:
I started missing classes and instead going out with my “blesser” and sometimes with my friends. It was during this time that I experienced the worst treatment of my life.

Why do you describe it as the worst treatment of your life?

Chimwemwe NANKHUNI:
The “blesser” I was going out with was in his early 50’s and I was only 18. So everything that happened was due to the influence of this man, and I did not have any say in whatever he suggested. He was taking care of me in everything and I would not say no to anything. I was like a slave in the relationship. He forced me to drink alcohol throughout the night to the extent that I stopped caring for myself. After drinking beer throughout the night, he would force me to sleep with him. Since he was giving me a lot of money and took care of my basic needs, I could not say no because he was older than me and had the influence to demand anything from me. I was always a victim. And since I wanted his money, I just said yes to anything.

Listeners, in today’s program we are discussing the risks of intergenerational relationships and I am speaking to one young woman who was in an intergenerational relationship and is sharing her story. Chimwemwe, please continue.

Chimwemwe NANKHUNI:
So it became a habit that we would drink and smoke and then have sex. Several times, I went to the hospital to get treated after I contracted a sexually transmitted infection. This did not matter to my “blesser,” who offered help even if I sought medical assistance from an expensive clinic. I was infected several times, which is a clear reflection of the fact that we used to have sex without protection. Being in a relationship that was controlled by the “blesser” rendered me voiceless and failing even to demand protection or contraceptives. After some months, I started feeling sick. When I went to the hospital, I was told that I was two months pregnant. But I didn’t worry since I knew who was responsible for it.

When I broke the news to him, to my surprise, the “blesser” denied responsibility, saying he has been paying me for my services and therefore had no case to answer. I was mad to see that the man I have been going out with had turned against me and refused to take care of me and the baby I was expecting.

Feeling worthless because of what had happened, I tried to abort the pregnancy, but it didn’t work and my baby was born some months later. The day this man denied responsibility for my pregnancy was the last time I saw him. I never met him again. I struggled alone with the pregnancy and later on raising the kid.

I went back to my parents to apologize for my behaviour and for failing to finish my university studies. I learnt a lesson the painful way, having someone who treated me like a queen but then denied me after making me pregnant and infecting me with sexually transmitted infections several times.

So in my opinion and through experience, I would say there are so many risks of intergenerational relationships. Today, I regret the choice I made at school that led me to raising a child alone. I did not finish my studies. My friends graduated and I did not—a thing I also regret. I would like to advise my fellow young women to work hard at school and refrain from bowing down to peer pressure. Safeguard your future, love it, and make sure you achieve what you aim at.

Thank you so much, Chimwemwe, for joining us in the program and sharing your story. I think it will help change the lives of young people out there who have chosen the same path as yours. I hope you find time after raising the kid to go back to school.

Dear listeners, that was Chimwemwe Nankhuni, our last guest, concluding the program this afternoon.

Today, we looked at the risks of intergenerational relationships for young people. We heard from two experts who talked about the importance of managing peer relationships and working hard in order to avoid getting into these kinds of relationships. One expert mentioned that the risks of intergenerational relationships ranged from sexually transmitted diseases and compromised future relationships to developing mental health issues.

We also heard that individuals of different generations need to learn to compromise, learn from each other, share perceptions, and be open-minded, not forgetting to respect one another.

And lastly, we heard from Chimwemwe Nankhuni about what she experienced in an intergenerational relationship.

On that note, we have come to the end of our program today. Many thanks to our guests Thokozani Ng’ombe Mwenyekonde from the iHEARD project, Walusungu Gondwe from the Shorten the Distance youth organization in Kasungu, and of course Chimwemwe Nankhuni for contributing to the program.

Till next time, I have been your host, Grace Kapatuka. Good bye.


Contributed by: Grace Kapatuka, Principal Communications Officer, National COVID-19 and Cholera Response Secretariat, Office of President and Cabinet.

Reviewed by:


Thokozani Ng’ombe Mwenyekonde, Project delivery lead for iHEARD, a project of Farm Radio international, CODE, and Marie Stopes International, November 16, 2023

Walusungu Gondwe, Project Coordinator, Shorten the Distance project, Kasungu, Malawi, December 8, 2023

Chimwemwe Nankhuni, Youth Action Movement, Lilongwe, Malawi, December 20, 2023

Collings Kalivute, Youth Action Movement, Ntcheu, Malawi, December 8, 2023


This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada as part of The Innovations in Health, Rights and Development, or iHEARD, project. The project is led by a consortium of: Farm Radio International, CODE, and Marie Stopes International (MSI) and implemented in Malawi by Farm Radio Trust, Women and Children First, Girl Effect, and Viamo.