AIDS Myth Fuels South Africa's Child-Rape Scourge
November 6, 2001
South Africa is in shock over a surge in the rape of children and even babies -- fueled, activists say, by the myth that sex with a virgin will protect a man against AIDS. On Monday, 3,000 demonstrators outside the courthouse in Upington demanded the reinstatement of the death penalty for six men accused of raping a 9-month-old girl. "South Africa has reached a new low . . . it's one of many," said Kelly Hatfield, director of People Opposed to Women Abuse.
"A lot of it has to do with the myth that a man will be cured of AIDS by having sex with a virgin, and how much more virginal can you get than a baby?" Hatfield asked. Rather than decreasing with AIDS education, the myth has taken hold in South Africa, which already has the world's highest incidence of rape. Police statistics reveal that 21,000 cases of child rape or assault were reported last year. Most of the crimes were committed by male relatives of the victims.
Three days before the 9-month-old was attacked last week, a 3-year-old was raped, allegedly by her grandfather. In the same week, a 14-month-old was assaulted by two uncles. With one South African in nine living with HIV/AIDS, such attacks are often a death sentence for the victims, said Glenys van Halter of South Africa Stop Child Abuse. She said that while the AIDS myth is driving the rapes, unemployment, poverty and alcoholism are also factors.
Hatfield said that in South Africa, whose constitution is billed as one of the world's most liberal, progressive laws are often at odds with reality. "South Africa has a history of violence, we communicate through violence, and it will be a long time before we move away from that," she said.
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.