Swazi King Marries 11th Wife Despite Call for Girls in Kingdom to Delay Marriage to Reduce Spread of HIV/AIDS
June 1, 2005
Swazi King Mswati III last week married his 11th wife despite being criticized for being polygamous in a country that has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world, BBC News reports (BBC News, 5/30). According to UNICEF, more than 40% of adults in Swaziland are HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/25). To combat the spread of HIV, the king in 2001 called on all virgin girls in Swaziland to remain abstinent and avoid marriage for five years under an ancient tradition called umcwasho, which means "badge of the virgin," according to Long Island Newsday. However, the king, who has 24 children and is expecting a 25th child with his new wife, since has defied his own rule by taking a new wife each year since 2001. In Swaziland, women are considered legal minors and are taught to be subservient to men, which makes them vulnerable in sexual relationships and virtually unable to negotiate condom use to prevent the spread of HIV, according to Siphiwe Hlope, director of Swaziland Positive Living for Life, Newsday reports. Hlope said the king could be influential on the sexual behavior of Swazis. "He is everything to Swazis; he is what it means to be a Swazi," Hlope said, adding, "If he himself stood up and said, 'I'm staying faithful to my partners. Everyone should have one wife and stick to his partner,' men here would listen" (Itano, Long Island Newsday, 5/31). The former king of Swaziland, King Sobhuza II, who was Mswati's father, had more than 70 wives when he died in 1982 (BBC News, 5/30).
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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.