Transactional dating: Focus on student and youth rights and opportunities

We should be exploring measures that ensure better opportunities and rights for students and youth, the Women's Aid Organisation says

Photograph: Eric Thoo

Recently released data by sugar dating platforms – claiming over 400,000 active members in Malaysia, including many university students – caused a stir with the Malaysian public.

Many passed moral judgement on the app and its users. We urge the government, universities, and the public to instead focus on student’s rights and access to financial resources.

Transactional dating or ‘sugar dating’, is typically characterised by an older, wealthier person providing financial remuneration to a younger person in exchange for a relationship.

Sugar dating may be an informed choice for many, and a path to financial independence; at the same time, we need to address inequalities and pressures that may push students into making constrained choices.

Instead of banning sugar dating apps, we should be exploring measures that ensure better opportunities and rights for students and youth. This could include greater financial aid for tuition, employment growth and skills training, and greater social safety nets.

Banning apps may cause sudden financial loss to students and youth who use the app, and may push transactional dating into dangerous and riskier parts of the internet – leaving students and youth vulnerable to abuse. Instead, authorities could focus on data protection – to protect against breaches of privacy and against cyber harassment.

Additionally, we should improve education on sexual and reproductive health and rights – including on consent and bodily autonomy – to help students and young people make empowered and safe decisions.

The focus must be on rights and financial resources. We must listen to and respect students and young people – and make the effort to better understand lived realities and needs. – Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

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