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Video: Girls in Malawi victims of 'sexual cleansing' ritual

Latest update : 2018-02-16

By Clélia BÉNARD , Sophie WAHL

In the remote southern regions of Malawi, a violent tradition is practised on young women. Girls who reach puberty are forced to have sex with a "hyena", a man chosen by their family. Strict rules surround this rape, which is organised in the utmost secrecy. Despite being outlawed, the ancient practice endures.

This report was co-financed by the Rotary magazine’s young TV reporter prize.

Girls in southern Malawi have no say in the matter. As soon as they get their first period, they are made to spend the night with a man chosen by their family - called a "hyena" - to mark their passage to womanhood. Locals believe this "sexual cleansing" ritual is necessary to "purify" the young women and protect them from serious illnesses. But for the girls, it’s a traumatic event: rape, which can result in an unwanted pregnancy.

"Hyenas" are men chosen by the community and recruited in secret by the girls’ parents. They are paid to have these forced sexual relations. And they never use protection: a disaster in a country where 10% of the population is HIV-positive. The figure is even higher in this poor region, where 16% of inhabitants carry the virus.

The practice is now banned, but in rural Malawi, old traditions die hard and enforcing the law is difficult. Yet mentalities are slowly changing, and people are beginning to speak out against this custom. Female district chiefs and NGOs have already begun the long struggle so that one day, girls in Malawi will no longer be victims of this tradition.