Swazi King’s Choice of Teenage Bride Draws Criticism From AIDS Advocates
Swaziland's King Mswati III has chosen a 17-year-old girl to become his 11th wife, leading health workers to say that he is setting a bad example for the country, which has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, Reuters reports. The Royal Palace has announced that the king next year will marry Noliqhwa Ntentensa when she turns 18. Mswati's latest decision to take another young bride has drawn criticism from AIDS and women's rights advocates, who claim that he is violating his own 2001 order for all teenage girls to remain virgins to help stem the spread of HIV (Reuters, 8/25). Mswati in September 2001 reinstated the "Umcwasho" chastity rite in which men are barred from having sex with women who have undergone the rite and could be fined or ostracized as morally deviant for violating it (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/9/2002). Mswati last year paid a fine of five cows for breaking the chastity rule with another young bride. "Nobody is obeying the chastity rules because the king isn't. If the king had been faithful to his rules, every girl in Swaziland would be [participating]. Every school headmaster would insist they do, because the king was showing the way," Nomsa Ndumiso, a nurse in a suburb of the capital of Mbabane, said. Ntombi Shabalala, a health worker in Mbabane, agreed, adding, "This could have worked, and it would have had a real impact on the spread of AIDS, because people honor the king" (Reuters, 8/25). Swazi Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini in a January address said that the country's official HIV prevalence had reached 38.6%, up from 34.2% in January 2002, marking the first time the country has acknowledged that it has one of the highest rates in the world. The country now ranks behind only Botswana for the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.