Po­lice in Malawi torch ‘sex-train­ing’ ini­ti­a­tion shacks

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

BLANTYRE — Po­lice in eastern Malawi have torched sev­eral ini­ti­a­tion camps which were al­legedly teach­ing chil­dren sex­ual skills in­stead of of­fer­ing them “sound ad­vice”.

Machinga District Po­lice Spokesper­son Dave Su­lumba con­firmed the move in an in­ter­view.

“We have in­deed torched some ini­ti­a­tion camps built along river banks and on moun­tain slopes. We are not against the cul­tural prac­tice of chi­namwali (ini­ti­a­tion) but the gov­ern­ment wants chil­dren to go to school,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Su­lumba, many tra­di­tional chiefs have sup­ported the torch­ing of the shacks be­ing used as ini­ti­a­tion camps be­cause the new school year is now in ses­sion.

“There is re­al­i­sa­tion amongst most chiefs that ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies are linked to teenage preg­nan­cies and child mar­riages. These can be ad­dressed by im­prov­ing chil­dren’s ac­cess to ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion,” he said.

Ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies in ru­ral Malawi are re­garded as the tran­si­tional pas­sage from child­hood to adult­hood.

Dur­ing school hol­i­days, chil­dren spend some weeks at ini­ti­a­tion camps where they are taught house­hold chores and how to con­duct them­selves once mar­ried.

There are mixed re­ac­tions on whether the prac­tice should con­tinue.

Some be­lieve that ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies are part of cul­tural preser­va­tion while oth­ers re­gard them as sex­train­ing camps which fuel sex­u­ally risky be­hav­iour amongst the youth.

Some ini­ti­ated youths have also com­plained of wast­ing their time at ini­ti­a­tion camps where they claim the key lessons are about how to per­form sex in bed.

“There is noth­ing like cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion at such camps, as the fo­cus is on sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion and the singing of ob­scene songs,” said one newly ini­ti­ate.

She said the so-called grad­u­a­tion from child­hood to adult­hood through ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies fo­cuses on how to have sex and lose vir­gin­ity.

Malawi Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion in its re­ports on tra­di­tional cul­tural prac­tices made a sim­i­lar ob­ser­va­tion that the per­for­mance of sex is em­pha­sized at ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies.

“The girls are taken to this iso­lated place, which is called thedzo and tsimba (ini­ti­a­tion camp) where they are taught some pieces of ad­vice. The girls are also taught how to of­fer the best sex to their male coun­ter­parts,” reads the Com­mis­sion’s re­port in part.

The com­mis­sion made the ob­ser­va­tion in a re­port ti­tled “Cul­tural Prac­tices and their Im­pact on the En­joy­ment of Hu­man Rights, Par­tic­u­larly the Rights of Women and Chil­dren in Malawi.”

A lo­cal hu­man rights group, Girls with Pas­sion be­lieves that the con­se­quences of ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies in­clude HIV trans­mis­sion and up­surge of child mar­riages. “Ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies should be banned. Teach­ing girls how to per­form sex in bed at ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies is one of the driv­ers of early mar­riages and teenage preg­nan­cies,” says the group direc­tor Darlington Harawa.

Ac­cord­ing to Harawa, the worst part of it is that both boys and girls are en­cour­aged to have sex as a proof that they have in­deed grad­u­ated from child­hood to adult­hood.

He ex­plained: “The prob­lem is that some get in­fected with HIV in the process of prov­ing that they are grown up af­ter be­ing to ini­ti­a­tion camps.”

The ad­vice they re­ceive from ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies, cou­pled with dire poverty, is what drives young girls into pros­ti­tu­tion and early mar­riages.

“The prob­lem of early mar­riages can be ad­dressed by re­form­ing or even ban­ning such prac­tices as chi­namwali or ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies,” Harawa ex­plained.

Ac­cord­ing to a Re­port of Pro­fil­ing Early Mar­riages in Malawi by Na­tional Youth Coun­cil, half of Malaw­ian fe­males marry be­fore they reach their 18th birth­day.

The coun­cil says 35% of fe­males aged be­tween 15 and 19 be­come preg­nant or moth­ers an­nu­ally an in­di­ca­tion of high teenage preg­nan­cies.

Be­sides en­cour­ag­ing promis­cu­ity, ini­ti­a­tion rites are also in the spot­light be­cause of the in­juries and the death that oc­cur at such camps.

In July this year, for in­stance, a 13-year-old boy died at one of the ini­ti­a­tion camps in cen­tral Malawi’s district of Ka­sungu due to se­vere bleed­ing, af­ter un­der­go­ing cir­cum­ci­sion.

The po­lice con­firmed that Sayineti died on a river bank and the ini­ti­a­tion camp lead­ers buried him with­out tak­ing his body to a hos­pi­tal.

“Med­i­cal per­son­nel and po­lice of­fi­cers ex­humed the body and con­ducted a post­mortem which showed the boy died of se­vere bleed­ing due to the cir­cum­ci­sion which went wrong,” said Ka­sungu po­lice pub­li­cist Edna Mz­ing­witsa.

Ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­monies are not only ram­pant in Malawi but in sev­eral African coun­tries where this rite of pas­sage into adult­hood fol­lows a bush re­treat of some weeks and is widely seen as a test of phys­i­cal en­durance. — AFP

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