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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 01:46 GMT 02:46 UK
Swazi king drops sex-ban tassels
King Mswati's fiancee wearing a tassel (archive pic)
The ban was very unpopular with young Swazis
Swaziland's King Mswati III has ended a five-year sex ban he imposed on the kingdom's teenage girls a year early.

The girls have had to wear large woollen tassels as a sign of their chastity since 2001.

The sex ban was imposed to fight the spread of HIV/Aids. About 40% of the population are HIV positive.

In 2001, the king fined himself a cow for breaking the ban by marrying again, but he could choose another wife at the annual reed dance this weekend.

In the two-day ceremony bare-breasted girls will dance before the monarch.

King Mswati transgressed the ban when he took a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife just two months after imposing the sex ban in September 2001, sparking unprecedented protests by Swazi women outside the royal palace.

Meanwhile, the health ministry has released new figures which show that 29% of Swazis aged 15-19 are HIV positive.

For pregnant women, the figures were 42%.

Ban enforced

"We are happy that we are through with this and I am very proud that I have been faithful to this rite," said Ntombi Dlamini, 19, as she threw away her tassels.

No official reason has been given about why the sex ban was ended a year early.

The BBC's Thulani Mthethwa in Swaziland says the ban was very unpopular with young Swazis.

King Mswati III
King Mswati has been criticised for his lavish lifestyle
He says that few girls in urban areas wore the tassels, known as "umchwasho".

If propositioned by a man, the girls were supposed to throw the tassels outside his house and his family would have to pay a fine of a cow.

But many Swazis were unhappy that King Mswati's daughters were rarely seen wearing the tassels.

But our correspondent says that in rural areas, the tassels were common because the ban was enforced by local chiefs and some schools insisted that girls wore them to get a place.

King Mswati now has 12 wives and another fiancee.

His late father, King Sobhuza II, who led the country to independence in 1968, had more than 70 wives when he died in 1982.

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12 Nov 01 |  Africa
Profile: Troubled King Mswati
04 Dec 01 |  Africa
Country profile: Swaziland
18 May 05 |  Country profiles

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