Swaziland King Abandons Campaign for Virgin Girls To Remain Abstinent, Avoid Marriage
Swazi King Mswati III last week announced he will abandon a campaign meant to combat the spread of HIV by urging virgin girls to remain abstinent, coinciding with the release of a Ministry of Health and Social Welfare study showing that 29% of Swazi teens are HIV-positive, the SAPA/Independent reports (SAPA/Independent, 8/20). The king in 2001 called on all virgin girls in Swaziland to remain abstinent and avoid marriage for five years under an ancient tradition called umcwasho, which means "badge of the virgin." In Swaziland, women are considered legal minors and are taught to be subservient to men, which makes them vulnerable in sexual relationships and virtually unable to negotiate condom use to prevent contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/1). No official reason was given as to why the campaign is ending a year ahead of schedule, but it was considered unpopular among young people, according to BBC News (BBC News, 8/23). As part of the campaign, girls ages 16 to 24 were instructed to wear traditional tassels to signify chastity. Thousands of young women on Monday removed their tassels during a ceremony at the royal compound in Ludzidzini, Swaziland, and are expected to burn them during another private ceremony on Tuesday (Reuters South Africa, 8/22).
The health and social welfare ministry study found that 29% of young people ages 15 to 19 are HIV-positive. The study also found that 42.6% of pregnant women who received HIV tests at clinics are HIV-positive. In addition, about 40% of adults ages 30 to 39 who agreed to voluntary HIV counseling and testing in 2004 tested HIV-positive. Approximately 480,000 people in Swaziland, which has a total population of about one million people, are living with HIV/AIDS, according to the AP/Yahoo! News (Mthethwa, AP/Yahoo! News, 8/19).