London: Young girls in South Africa are being “kidnapped” and forced to “marry” older HIV-positive men because of the myth that having sex with a virgin will cure them of the disease.
An investigation into South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape has revealed how children as young as 12, from the Xhosa people, are being pressured into premature nuptials, the Daily Mail reported.
According to CNN, the tradition of Ukuthwala, translated to “to pick up” or “to take”, was used as an excuse to justify the abductions.
It said that, in many cases, the “kidnappings” were consented to by the youngster’s parents in exchange for cash.
But a campaign to educate locals in the illegality of their actions is said to be paying off, the channel’s ‘Ukuthwala - Stolen Innocence’ documentary details.
Timothy, a man they interviewed, said there was simply no awareness about what was being done.
“We apologise for that as we did not know we were breaking the law,” he said.
World Aids Campaign field worker Nombasa Gxuluwe, who was born and raised in the area, dedicates herself to try and end what is in effect the buying and selling of child brides.
“There’s a myth if you sleep with a young girl who is a virgin and as a man you are HIV positive then HIV can be cured. That’s why they are focusing on these young girls,” she told CNN.
But she said that the men, who were often widowed by HIV, simply ended up infecting their new brides too.
The film also reveals that there is hope for some of the victims, with a refuge opened so they can be integrated back into the community.
The Palmerton Care Centre, in the grounds of a KwaCele village Methodist Church, sees social workers counselling girls.
But it is not an easy transition, because many have by then been shunned by their family and friends.
Gxuluwe said that the campaign seems to be working, in that 11 men in the past year have been charged with abduction and under-age sex.