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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update

SWAZILAND: Swaziland Girls Celebrate End of Sex Ban


Associated Press (08.23.05) - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On Tuesday, thousands of Swazi girls celebrated the premature end of a royal ban on sexual relations for girls under age 18, an ancient custom that was re-imposed in a bid to fight AIDS. In 2001, King Mswati III reintroduced the "umchwasho" chastity ritual for five years, during which girls wore tasseled scarves symbolizing their chastity. If a man approached an umchwasho girl for sex, the girl was expected to throw the tassels at his home, obligating his family to forfeit a cow.

The decree was widely scorned as old-fashioned and too focused on girls. Even the king flouted it, impregnating his ninth wife when she was 17. The king lifted the ban one year early.

Swazi girls have now privately burned their scarves, which experts said did little to slow AIDS in the nation, where up to 40 percent of adults have HIV. The rate is 42.6 percent among pregnant women.

"We are so happy that King Mswati ordered us to take off the woolen tassels," said 18-year-old Nombulelo Dlamini. "They were no use because some girls fell pregnant while wearing the same tassels," said Dlamini, who added that she hid her tassels "because a lot of boys were making fun of us whenever we were spotted wearing them." But the celebration was not universal. "Wearing the tassels was good for us young girls because men were scared to touch and abuse us," said 16-year-old Bongiwe Nkampule. "Now that we had to take off the woolen tassels we will be vulnerable to abuse." A recent decline in HIV and pregnancy rates among teens is due to vigorous prevention campaigns and not the chastity order, said Derek Von Wissel, director of the National Emergency Response on HIV/AIDS.


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