Posted on August 26, 2016
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In a recent edition of the BBC’s Crossing Continents, Ed Butler’s ‘Stealing Innocence in Malawi’ highlighted the tradition where men are paid to have unprotected sex with girls after their first menstruation as a cleansing ritual. The title of Butler’s article accompanying his podcast described the practice for what it is -‘The Man Hired to Have Sex with Children’.
This ‘tradition’ is simply a harmful cultural practice that equates to gender-based violence. As well as destroying innocence, this practice poses major risks to health in those areas of Malawi where they are carried out. In this case, the ‘hyena’ was HIV positive so this has implications for the whole community. The actions also can result in pregnancy, which puts young girls at risk of childbirth injuries and even death.
Key to tackling this issue is education – for boys, girls and communities. Such practices are perpetuated as a result of ignorance, which harnesses fear and superstition, allowing these ‘traditions’ to continue. Butler makes this point in his article, commenting “Parents who have had more education than others may already choose not to hire a hyena…”.
Education helps change attitudes. Access to education allows children to understand the health risks involved in these traditions; it helps tackle misplaced beliefs that often exist in the guise of ‘culture’and, especially for girls, allows them to recognise that they have an alternative to simply marrying young and can make a positive contribution to their communities.
Malawi has already made positive strides to protect children. In 2015 it banned child marriage by raising the minimum age of marriage to 18. The BBC feature also led to the President ordering the arrest of the ‘hyena’ who was the subject of the programme, commenting,”Harmful cultural and traditional practices cannot be accepted.”
Some women’s groups maintain child marriage will continue until more was done to tackle poverty and that is why ACT is committed to educating children and giving widows the skills they need to generate an income so the cycle of poverty can be broken.
Find out more about what ACT is doing in Malawi.