The purpose of this paper is to examine the risks of HIV transmission to children through sexual abuse and exploitation in sub-Saharan Africa. The paper is based on a review of pertinent literature. Child sexual abuse in this region must be defined broadly enough to encompass widespread coercion or violence in early sexual relations in some regions, the practice of ‘transactional sex’ and constructions of masculinity, emphasising multiple sexual partners and power over women and girls. The high HIV prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa is briefly described. Research evidence showing the link between child sexual abuse and HIV transmission is reviewed, although this is a topic where very little direct empirical work has been conducted. Particular methodological and ethical difficulties have been encountered by researchers. Future research directions are indicated. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.