HIV/Aids

23 November 2016

HIV-positive Malawi man jailed for sexual rituals

A Malawian man was prosecuted after publicly speaking about his role as a 'hyena'. In parts of the country a 'hyena' is paid to have sex with bereaved widows and adolescent girls.

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An HIV-positive Malawian man who said he had sex with at least 100 girls and women in traditional cleansing rituals was sentenced to two years in jail for "harmful practices".

Guilty on two charges

Eric Aniva, 45, was prosecuted on the orders of President Peter Mutharika after publicly speaking about his role as a "hyena" in a BBC radio documentary earlier this year.

"I convict you to serve 24 months' imprisonment," judge Innocent Nebi told Aniva in a packed courtroom in the remote southern district of Nsanje.

On Friday, in the first case of its kind, Aniva was found guilty on two charges after a one-day trial.

Custom in some parts of southern Malawi demands that a man, known as a "hyena", is paid to have sex with bereaved widows to exorcise evil spirits and to prevent other deaths occurring.

At the request of a girl's parents, the "hyena" is also paid to have sex with adolescent girls to mark their passage to womanhood after their first menstruation.

Read: What is menstruation?

Aniva, who pleaded not guilty, told AFP immediately after the sentence: "I am disappointed because I thought I would be given a suspended sentence."

The charges, brought under the gender equality act, involved sex with bereaved widows as none of the younger girls would testify.

International outcry

The ritual, which many Malawians say is rarely practised today, is believed to also train girls to become good wives and protect them from disease or misfortune that could fall on their families.

"The convict had no regard to the feelings of widows, no regard to dignity of women and it is even doubtful that condoms were used," the judge said. "Such a culture has no place in Malawi."

Read: Condoms for your teenager?

After an international outcry over the documentary, President Mutharika ordered Aniva's arrest in July.

"This case represents the reality on the ground and is a breakthrough because the law has taken its course," Charles Mazenga, deputy director in the gender and children ministry, told AFP.

He said Malawi had "passed a big test" and he hoped the punishment on Aniva "would help put sexual cleansing to its end".

'A lot of errors'

Malawi is one of the worst HIV-affected countries in the world, with nine percent of the adult population infected with the virus.

Aniva faced a maximum five-year jail term, and his lawyers said they would launch an appeal.

"This is a miscarriage of justice," said lawyer Michael Chipeta. "There were a lot of errors made in the conviction and sentencing."

Aniva had told the BBC that he had slept with at least 104 women and girls, some as young as 12, in a ritual that lasts three days.

He said each family paid him a fee of between $4 and $7.

Read more:

What drove women to lie in an HIV clinical trial in southern Africa

Adolescents with HIV

Hetero HIV risk underestimated

 

Ask the Expert

HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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