Rural villages along the eastern cape of South Africa are plagued with a horrid, traditional practice that is echoed around other parts of the world: girls as young as 12 year-old are kidnapped and forced to marry older men. In South Africa, CNN reports, it is a natural and silently accepted aspect of the Xhosa people.
Parents in the area justify the practice through their consent. Young girls are given up to older men in exchange for money or gifts, such as goats and chickens. But what is even worse is the twisted idea that is beginning to develop in the region. Several older men that have become infected with AIDS/HIV are looking to young women as a cure.
“There is a myth that if you sleep with a young girl who is a virgin and as a man you are HIV positive then HIV can be cured,” Nombasa Gxuluwe, a South African World Aids Campaign field worker told CNN. “That is why they are focusing on these young girls.”
Nombasa is among a small team of individuals who are dedicated to ending the ruthless buying and selling of child brides. She spends hours with social workers from other organizations trying to educate men in the villages on current civil marriage laws which they are unaware of. Many of these abductors are older men who have become widows from HIV. They choose to sleep with “virgins” because they think they will be cured of the disease, however they end up infecting the young girls too. The girls, who usually end up abandoned by these polygamist men for other women or escape from these situations and seek help in shelters, often have no homes to return to, as parents and their communities shun them for catching the HIV virus.
The National Prosecuting Authority in South Africa is also working to battle this illegal practice. Last year, eleven men were charged with abduction and under-age sex. None of the cases have been tried in court.
It is a chilling and eerie story, but one that reminds us of the power and importance of public health education. Through ignorance, the HIV virus has continued to spread, especially to helpless young children. It is important that we reclaim power over our bodies and seek justice against ignorant bliss and falsified fairy tales. We must continue to fight these injustices — no matter what part of the world we are in.