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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Staging sex myths to save Zimbabwe's girls
By Steve Vickers
BBC News, Makoni, eastern Zimbabwe

Women wearing t-shirts with slogan, "Virgins don't cure Aids - it's a myth"
Cases of rape of young girls are on the increase in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe's most prominent organisation fighting child sexual abuse is confronting traditional healers to take action over the myth that having sex with a virgin can cure Aids - one reason behind the rape of young girls.

In a rural area some 200km east of Harare, a play is being acted out.

An HIV-positive man visits a traditional healer and is advised to have sex with a virgin in order to be cured.

The reasoning is that the blood produced by raping a virgin will cleanse the virus from the infected person's blood.

It is part of the Girl Child Network project and was staged at a girl's empowerment village, where rape survivors are given safe accommodation, counselling and training in life-skills.

Traditional healers from all of the country's provinces recently attended a meeting here, along with chiefs, a government minister and religious leaders, where many of the girls stood up and gave accounts of the abuse that they had suffered.

'Traumatised'

One was raped by her father when she was two years old.

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She is now eight, and an orphan, as her father died in prison after the rape was reported by her mother, who has also died.

A 14-year-old told how her uncle raped her and left her pregnant.

She was thrown out of the house by her aunt and had an abortion after six months. There were complications and she has been ill ever since.

"I'm traumatised," she said, in floods of tears.

All of the groups represented were moved by the vivid accounts and condemned the abuse, but none admitted responsibility for encouraging sex with virgins to cure HIV.

'No medicine to cure Aids'

National Traditional Healers Association secretary Alex Mashoko blamed healers not registered with his organisation

Betty Makoni
Not everybody is doing it, as they were saying, but it is happening
Betty Makoni
Director of the Girl Child Network

"We have heard about this for a long time and really, as an organisation we want to crush the people that have been doing that through the chiefs and through the government.

"The government must give tough penalties on this. Those crooks don't want to come and register.

"Since I have been practising traditional healing I have never done a thing like that. I have only read about it in the papers but I have never seen someone doing things like that.

"I don't accept things like that. It is not good.

"We as an organisation don't tell people to sleep with girls so that it can cure Aids because there is no medicine to cure Aids."

Same fate

Girl Child Network director Betty Makoni, felt that although no-one took responsibility for the abuse of young girls, the meeting was a "quite a step forward" in confronting the myth that virgins cure HIV.

Young rape victims in Zimbabwe
Many of the girls spoke out about the abuse they had suffered

Explaining, she said: "Not everybody is doing it, as they were saying, but it is happening."

Recently South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out against the rape of girls as young as nine months old in his country.

It is impossible to say whether the problem is increasing or not here, but South Africa is clearly not the only affected country - many children in Zimbabwe and the rest of southern Africa have suffered the same fate.


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