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The African Myth:  Child rape and cure for AIDS


Child victims of sexual violence in Africa today face a bizarre social and cultural maze of ignorance, desperation, tribal tradition, dark religion, poverty and the power of myth and sex.


As the AIDS crisis in these regions devastates countless young victims, others are seriously impacted by the teachings of Natural Healers, also known as Sangomas and Muti men. The central concept of these teachings, offered to adult men who may be sick and in fear of death, is that sexual relations with a young virgin will cure AIDS. Suzanne McCleric-Madlala, an anthropologist, lecturer and researcher at the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa, says that both AIDS and the ‘child rape myth’ have put young girls and infants at risk. "The rapist believes that having sex with a virgin can cleanse them of AIDS.” She adds that child rape is also committed to avoid contracting the AIDS virus from older women.  Tragically, many of these victims are under eight-years old.


The AIDS Crisis, unfortunately, is not the only issue when it comes to child rape issues in Africa. The 2002 World Health Organization ‘World Report on Violence and Health’ indicates that medical clinics in Johannesburg, South Africa, report that one-third of all cases of rape they see are instances of gang-rape (with two or more perpetrators). Young men, who may be members of gangs, can view gang rape as punishment for women who are caught flirting--and even as a matter of family honor. Laws and policies to protect women in many areas are inadequate, perpetrators are often not prosecuted, evidence or testimony by the female victims can be disallowed, and the man can be excused of his deed if he "marries" the victim. Social norms provide for the male’s "sexual entitlement," and females have few options to refuse sex.


As an example of the pervasive feeling among young African males, a survey of 1,500 students in South Africa’s sprawling Black townships found that 25 percent of boys between ages 12 and 22 years-old consider gang-rape as being "fun," and another 16 percent said it was "cool."  To quote from the report, "A growing number of studies, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, indicate that the first sexual experience of girls is often unwanted and forced. In a case-controlled study, for example, of 191 adolescent girls (about age 16), attending an antenatal clinic in Cape Town, Africa, and 353 non-pregnant adolescents matched for age and neighborhood or school, 31.9 percent of the study cases reported that force was used during their sexual initiation. When asked about the consequences of refusing sex, 78 percent of the study cases said they feared being beaten if they refused to have sex (World Report on Health and Violence, WHO, 2002)."


The eradication of this belief and the terrible toll it takes on the young and the innocent are starting points for CIFKIDS efforts to help build a secure future for all Southern Africans.


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