Malawi faces calls to re­view two-year jail term for HIV-pos­i­tive ‘hyena’ man

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

LONDON — An HIV-pos­i­tive Malaw­ian man has been jailed for two years with hard labour af­ter claim­ing fam­i­lies paid him to have sex with more than 100 women and girls, spark­ing out­rage among women’s rights ac­tivists who want the sen­tence re­viewed.

Eric Aniva ad­mit­ted to Bri­tish broad­caster the BBC in July that he had not dis­closed his HIV sta­tus be­fore he had sex with more than 100 young girls and women.

In Malawi, men known as “hye­nas” are sent by vil­lage el­ders to have sex with girls as young as nine to “clean out the dust” of child­hood and pre­pare them for mar­riage and also with new wi­d­ows to rid them of their hus­band’s spirit.

The sex­ual initiation rit­ual is one of sev­eral tra­di­tional prac­tices that cam­paign­ers against child mar­riage are try­ing to erad­i­cate in the south­ern African na­tion where half of girls are wed be­fore they reach 18.

In 2015, Malawi raised the le­gal mar­ry­ing age from 15 to 18 which ac­tivists hoped would end early sex­ual ini­ti­a­tions.

Women’s rights groups ex­pressed out­rage over Aniva’s sen­tence, call­ing it too le­nient and say­ing it would not de­ter would-be of­fend­ers. “This is a dis­grace and a big let­down to the women and girls of Malawi,” said Emma Kaliya, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Malawi Hu­man Rights Re­source Cen­tre, in a state­ment. “The courts of jus­tice must re­voke and re­con­sider this sen­tence.” Aniva was ar­rested in July af­ter Malawi’s Pres­i­dent Peter Mutharika con­demned him for com­mit­ting “evil acts”.

His case was the first to be tried un­der Malawi’s Gen­der Equal­ity Act for hav­ing sex with new wi­d­ows.

Tra­di­tional cleans­ing rit­u­als are in­tended to rid a widow of her hus­band’s spirit. In some com­mu­ni­ties wi­d­ows are forced to have sex with a stranger, in oth­ers they have to clean their hus­band’s corpse and then drink the wa­ter.

Widow in­her­i­tance, cleans­ing rites and the evic­tion of women from their homes are fu­elling the trans­mis­sion of HIV across the con­ti­nent, ex­perts say.

An­ber Raz, deputy di­rec­tor of Donor Di­rect Ac­tion, an in­ter­na­tional women’s rights or­gan­i­sa­tion, said at least Aniva was held ac­count­able but added two years of hard labour seemed min­i­mal com­pared to the violence he in­flicted on women.

“Women around the world con­tinue to en­dure ex­treme violence while per­pe­tra­tors ei­ther get min­i­mal sen­tences or evade jus­tice com­pletely. Gov­ern­ments seem very re­luc­tant to deal with this is­sue ef­fec­tively,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Fam­i­lies from Aniva’s home district, how­ever, were dis­ap­pointed that he had been jailed, ac­cord­ing to jour­nal­ist Lameck Masina who was in court when the sen­tence was pro­nounced.

“The peo­ple from (Aniva’s) district are say­ing that it is a vi­o­la­tion of their cul­ture and vowed to con­tinue with the prac­tice even though it is in con­flict with the law,” he said. — Reuters

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