Swaziland's annual Reed Dance is a ceremony in which bare-breasted teenage girls from across the country dance before the royal court. King Mswati III -- Africa's last ruling monarch, who already has 13 wives -- has in the past selected a new spouse during the dance.
While intended as a celebration of female virginity, the event has a darker side. The presence of some 60,000 girls who are far from home attracts much attention. Though police stand guard, men hang out near the camps where the teens stay, ogling girls bathing naked at dawn in the nearby river. A visit to the "cuddle puddle," a hot spring, has become a codeword for sex.
In the country with the world's highest HIV prevalence, the Reed Dance presents an opportunity to conduct prevention among a highly vulnerable group. Some 30 percent of females ages 15-49 are HIV-positive, compared with 20 percent of their male peers.
But given the event's emphasis on virginity, condom promotion is not allowed. Outreach workers instead encourage abstinence and discuss the dangers of having multiple partners.
Tsabile Dlamini, 18, has attended the Reed Dance several times and now works for Population Services International. Wearing a T-shirt that says, "I am a maiden, I protect my flower," Dlamini encourages other girls to talk about their bodies and about sex, subjects that are still taboo in their rural home districts.