Innocent young girls 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 revealed how children as young as 12, from the Xhosa people, are being pressured into premature nuptials.
CNN discovered how 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.
He said: ‘We apologize for that as we did not know we were breaking the law.’
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.
She told CNN: ‘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.’
But she said that the men, who were often widowed by HIV, simply ended up infecting their new brides, too.
In the documentary, made by WAC, a girl from the village of Lusikisiki tells her story.
She said: ‘The lady from next door called me and asked me if I wanted to get married. I said no. She said if I refused they would take me by force and beat me up.
‘The next night the lady came to my house and took me to the river.
‘There were seven people waiting there.’
‘They made me go with them to the house where the man lived. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. That I was getting married.
‘There was this old man in the room and he told me, I paid cattle for you and whether you like it or not you are my wife.
‘He picked me up and put me on the bed and undressed me. He also got undressed and tried to force himself on me.
‘I fought him but he pushed me down and forced my legs open. That’s when he slept with me.’
But the film also reveals there is hope for some of the victims, with a refuge opened so they can be integrated back into the community.
The Palmerton Care Center, in the grounds of a KwaCele village Methodist Church, sees social workers counseling girls.
But it is not an easy transition, because many have by then been shunned by their family and friends.
Nombasa 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.