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Sunday 18 December 2005
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SWAZILAND: Sex ban met with mixed reaction


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


JOHANNESBURG, 24 August (PLUSNEWS) - A traditional chastity vow by young Swazi women reintroduced by King Mswati III in 2001 to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, officially ended this week amid mixed feelings.

Known as "umcwasho", after the tasselled woollen headgear worn by young girls, the ritual required its initiates to make a vow that they would abstain from sex for five years, and devote their efforts to self-improvement and learning traditional Swazi ways.

However, as scores of women celebrated the end of the sex ban by burning their tassels on Monday, a debate has begun over the long-term impact of the custom.

"Wearing the tassels was good for us young girls because men were scared to touch and abuse us. Now that we had to take off the woollen tassels we will be vulnerable to abuse," 16-year-old Bongiwe Nkampule told the BBC.

A health ministry sentinel surveillance report, released in April, showed a decline in the number of HIV-positive pregnant girls from 33.5 percent in 2002 to 29.3 percent in 2004 - but this was within the 3 percent plus-or-minus error range.

The director of the National Emergency Response on HIV and AIDS, Derek Von Wissel, said new infections among teens had slowed, as had teenage pregnancies, but noted that this was due to vigorous prevention campaigns by NGOs rather than the chastity rite.

[ENDS]

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