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Sexual cleansing: no ghost to chase

GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA
LAST week ended with sad cases of sexual violence – particularly the sacrificing of 12-year-old girl for sexual cleansing in Mansa and the defilement of a 13-year-old girl in Ndola by her uncle.
When it seemed like the old barbaric culture of sexual cleansing was ebbing away and was being relegated to the annals of history, a 12-year-old girl became the latest victim.
The saddest thing about this incident is that a couple asked the minor, their own flesh and blood, to sleep with her brother-in-law after his wife died.
How heartless and inconsiderate one Danstan Ng’andwe, 55, and his wife Victoria Mwape, 42, in collusion with their mother, could be to force a toddler to sleep with a widower, Matthews Chabu.
Why would anyone in a right frame of mind ruin their daughter’s future like that? This is a girl who under normal circumstances should have nothing to do with sex and the act she was compelled to perform was probably foreign to her.
That girl will never forget what she went through when her parents called her and asked her to sleep with her brother-in-law, and then in came the man who molested her mercilessly.
There was no one she could cry to for help – her own parents and grandmother, who ought to protect her, gave her away to the rapist.
I was spooked that parents could consent to the sexual assault of their daughter, obviously being fully aware of the abiding effects of such sexual onslaught.
Victims of sexual violence have shared sad stories of how they endure long-term effects. actually, some are permanently scared – emotionally, psychologically, and health-wise.
No rehab programme can completely take away the pain and anguish that victims of sexual abuse live with long after the humiliating encounter.
Equally stunning in this matter is that in this era people still believe a widow/widower needs sexual cleansing to exorcise the ‘spirit’ of their late spouse.
This was a deep-seated belief in past decades and widows and widowers were forced to sleep with in-laws to free them from the imaginary spirit of the departed so that they could start life afresh.
The misconception was that if one was not sexually cleansed, they would be haunted by the ghost of their late spouse and the ghastly experience would extend to one’s future intimate partner if ‘preventive measures’ were not taken.
The belief was so strong that those who opted out of the ritual were stigmatised and shunned by the opposite sex on perception that they were living under the shadow of their late spouse.
Therefore people went wild, risking their lives by having sex with in-laws to get rid of the imaginary ghost.
Some things that people believe in…I wonder if people would mistreat orphans with impunity if the dead had the power they are presumed to have.
Anyway before I digress, most of the victims, in rural areas especially, were just forced to sleep with in-laws or else they would not get the family’s blessings to start life all over again.
Simply put, according to this traditional fallacy, when you are sexually cleansed, you are free to mingle with the opposite sex or marry if you like.
Of course this is a barbaric tradition which not only dehumanises victims but also puts them at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).
I remember stories of how victims, women especially, were forced to have unprotected sex with brothers- in-law. People engaged in sex in the name of tradition, though not being aware of their HIV status, but without using condoms.
And at that time HIV was more like a death sentence because of there not being anti-retroviral therapy in public health institutions, but the bad tradition was given latitude, anyway.
We cannot deny that many people got infected with HIV and other STIs, at the height of the archaic tradition, and most likely lost their lives.
This is actually the reason why well-meaning Zambians waged a spirited campaign against sexual cleansing because of the multiplier effect it had on the HIV/AIDS incidence.
There was no doubt that sexual cleansing was fuelling the spread of HIV and AIDS and we can’t afford to go back to the old tradition now with all the achievements we have made in the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign.
Latest statistics indicate that HIV prevalence in Zambia stands at 14.3 percent from 15.6 percent. Mind you, women (16.1 percent) are more likely to be infected with HIV than men (12.3 percent) according to UNICEF data.
Thus, we need to work hard at sustaining this achievement and work harder to have the zero new HIV infection and zero deaths that we are targeting.
I would like to believe that the Mansa incident is just one isolated case of sexual cleansing because as far as I am concerned, every Zambian should know the negative effects of sexual cleansing.
Perhaps what I am not sure of is how much we have done to change mindsets in rural communities on matters of sexual cleansing.
The Mansa case should be a wake-up call for us to take stock of the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS preventive campaigns, especially in the rural communities where it is normally tough to engineer social change.
Apparently, child defilement is another big challenge facing the anti-HIV/AIDs campaign right now.
It seems people have this strange urge to have sex with children due to so many false beliefs; therefore, this is one area we need to tackle in the campaign.
Those of you who have lived long enough will actually agree with me that children were never used in the sexual cleansing rite. But due to many misguided beliefs that people have about sleeping with minors, we now find children getting embroiled in the sexual cleansing scourge.
Apparently this is the reason why we are seeing so many adolescents who have not reached the marriage age being infected with HIV. One of the reasons is that children are becoming sexually active at a tender age, owing to sexual defilement and early marriage, among other reasons.
Sometimes girls who have been sexually molested at a  tender age end up being sexually active prematurely.
For instance, the 12-year-old girl who was forced to sleep with her brother-in-law is likely to continue indulging, God forbid though, but that’s just the truth.
How can anyone talk her into abstinence after forcing her to sleep with her brother-in-law?
The defiler and the girl’s parents deserve to rot in jail for the evil they have committed.
eshonga@daily-mail.co.zm/emeldashonga@yahoo.com.Phone 0211- 227793/221364.

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