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A hidden disgrace: Young girls being raped to uphold culture

Relebohile Motana is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and is now pursuing her Masters in Public Policy at the University of Witwatersrand.

Shocking news came to the international media from Malawi when a proud Eric Aniva announced “he had slept with 104 women”, the majority being girls as young as 12 and 13 years old. Eric confessed to a BBC news reporter that he is HIV positive. Acknowledging that there’s something wrong in what he was doing, he said, “This ritual helps to spread HIV and culture does not allow the use of condoms in this ritual.” This act needs to be stopped, by introducing traditional practices which empower young women into womanhood. The legal system should put extended punitive measures in place for people who intentionally spread HIV, especially those who hide behind cultural practices.

In 2015 Jabulani Mlombo, a former owner of an initiation school in Mpumalanga, was sentenced a total of 15 years in jail for raping and sexually assaulting young girls, who were as young as 9. His wife, Mapalase Khoza, an accomplice, was sentenced 18 months in jail, and two years suspended for assaulting and causing grievous bodily harm to the girls.

It was clear that these perpetrators needed to be charged because they acted against the South African Constitution and that of many other countries, which gave Malawian President Peter Mutharika enough reason to call for Aniva’s arrest. Aniva was later given a short sentence of two years in prison.

These incidences validate that the legal, health and education system need to intervene in young women’s cultural initiation. This could be done by tracing these initiation schools and working with cultural leaders to regulate the schools. Better methods need to be put in place to prepare young women for their adolescent stage without jeopardising cultural principles and while instilling pride in young women.

Aniva’s engagement with young women appears as though it’s not a violation, because it’s a consensual engagement, especially for the older girls. These girls (presumably) agree to the “ritual” because they are made to believe that if they do not take part, death or misfortune will fall on their families. They are deliberately placed in this position of being stripped of their innocence, dignity and self-worth by cultural beliefs that are untrue.

The idea that parents handed over their daughters to Aniva because he is a man of “good morals” and consequently cannot be HIV positive is a reflection of a greater awareness that is required in remote areas of the world, including South Africa’s rural areas.

Intervention is also urgently required in South Africa, especially when girls as young as 10 years old demand sex. The link to this video shows a group of young girls who seemingly are in a learning set-up for womanhood, characterised by head scarves and blankets and women in the background cheering “yakhula intombazana”, meaning the girl is growing.

The shocking reality is not that they are doing this at a fragile age, it is the fact that the act is done as a cultural passage.

Initiation schools for girls are not popular, but they do exist in South Africa. These schools condone unacceptable sexual cultural passages. Young girls sleep with a man to “prepare them for womanhood”. Due to myths such as sleeping with a virgin being a cure for HIV, there is a great chance that these girls may contract the virus because the perpetrator will not use a condom.

The national and global legal system needs to support efforts of fighting HIV by monitoring structures that put anyone’s life in danger of being violated. The people who are guilty of this offence are working against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to “end the Aids epidemic” by 2030 and they are ruining the lives of innocent girls. DM


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