Girls as young as ten are being sent to initiation camps in Malawi to be taught about how to have sex and in some cases lose their virginity.
The girls are told by their families they are attending a camp with their friends, but when they arrive they are shown how to have sex and told they must lose their ‘child dust’ as soon as they can or they will get a skin disease.
The horrifying practice is not new – it is a time-honored ritual passed through generations and the girls are sent by their families to make sure they are accepted into their communities as adults.
When she was aged 10 Grace was sent to an initiation camp which took place not far from her home in Golden Village, where Grace lives with her grandmother, reports CNN.
During her week-long stay she said she was taught her about respecting her elders and doing household chores, but also how to have sex by the women that led the camp who are known as he women, known as anamkungwi, or ‘key leaders’.
She told a group of journalists visiting Malawi with the United Nations Foundation that the women demonstrated sexual positions and encouraged girls to do ‘sexual cleansing,’ also called kusasa fumbi, which meant they should get rid of their inexperience with sex through practice.
‘You should be dancing and have a man on top of you, making him happy,’ she was told.
She said she was not told about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases or how to protect herself.
She was also forbidden from using a condom, although Grace did not refused to do her sexual cleansing.
Joyce Mkandawire, the communications advisor for the Girls Empowerment Network said many girls are often not given the choice and sometimes adult men (known as hyenas) are hired by the girl’s own parents.
‘A hyena moves at night. Likewise, this hyena man comes at night into the girl’s bedroom,” Mkandawire said,
‘The girl doesn’t even know who is the ‘hyena’ coming to have sex with her.’
Malawi, like most countries is Southern Africa is facing an AIDS crisis that has orphaned at least half a million children so far.
During the initiation ceremonies, many girls have to unprotected sex with a man to prepare them for womanhood.
Without undergoing this process, a girl was considered to be a child and was therefore illegible for marriages.
Harriet Chanza of the World Health Organization told The Atlantic that in many agrarian communities: ‘There’s nothing like adolescence. You are either a child or an adult.’
She says the emphasis on having sex may also have a darker purpose in a country where nearly three-fourths of the population lives below the poverty line.
She says that some parents may actually want their daughters to get pregnant at a young age.
A girl is often married soon after she is found to be pregnant, deferring the cost of caring for her and her baby from her parents to her husband.
Malawi rates 10th for the highest rate of child marriages in the world.
According to World Health Organisation figures, 14.2 million girls under the age of 15 are forced into marriage each year.
The consequences are appalling. Along with an education and childhood cut short, girls suffer a traumatic initiation into sexual relationships, are put at risk of domestic violence and STI’s, and have the chance of a career or better life taken away.
Worse, many also die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications – the leading cause of death for girls aged between 15 and 19 years old in developing countries, according to UN figures.’
Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,’ comments Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA.