In Nsanje, Malawi, an HIV-positive man who admitted to having sex with more than 100 young girls and widows as part of “sexual cleansing” rituals was found guilty on two counts by a magistrate. Eric Aniva, 45, said that he had been employed by families to have sex with widowed women and girls who recently had their first menstruation as part of a tradition where men known as “hyenas” have sex with women in order to cleanse them of evil spirits.
“I dared to reveal what I have been practicing. But my arrest, prosecution and even imprisonment will not stop others from practicing a custom which has been in existence for over 100 years,” said Aniva, after being convicted in front of a packed courtroom.
The degree to which such traditions are observed is unclear, but locals said that some in the south of the country fear illness and other supernatural consequences should the rituals not be observed.
While the verdict of the trial did not account for the man’s HIV-positive status due to insufficient evidence that he had spread the disease, state prosecutor Chiyembekezo Banda pointed to the likelihood of Aniva having infected others while calling for the maximum allowed sentence in the case. Aniva faces, at most, five years in prison.
According to a UNAIDS 2014 report, an estimated one million Malawians live with HIV. Approximately 9.1 percent of the country’s adults suffer from the disease.
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