The Horrific Reason This Malawian Man Is Paid To Have Sex With Kids

Photo: BBC

It's not considered rape in that culture.

While we may not understand the customs and traditions of other countries, we try to respect them. But some traditions are so horrifying that it's our duty and responsibility to try to stop and eradicate them.

The practice of forcing children to have sex with a sex worker or hyena for sexual cleansing is one such custom. In a BBC Magazine story, reporter Ed Butler speaks to the pre-eminent "hyena" named Eric Aniva, and what he discovers is very disturbing.

Hyenas are men hired by various villages in Southern Malawi to provide the service of sexual cleansing. If a man dies, his widow is required by tradition to have sex with a hyena before she can properly bury her husband. Or, if a woman terminates a pregnancy, once again she's required to be sexually cleansed.

But even more shocking is that after a girl has her first period, she's forced (by her parents) to have sex with a hyena over a three-day period as a way to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood. If the girl refuses, it's believed that disease and/or some horrible misfortune will happen to her, her family, or her entire village. For their services, hyenas are paid anywhere from $4 to $7 each time.

"Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls," Aniva tells Butler. "Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older. All these girls find pleasure in having me as their hyena. They actually are proud and tell other people that this man is a real man, he knows how to please a woman."

But a girl in a nearby village says the opposite. "There was nothing I could have done. I had to do it for the sake of my parents," says Maria. "If I'd refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases — even death — so I was scared."

One of the elders of another village down the road says, "There's nothing wrong with our culture. If you look at today's society, you can see that girls are not responsible, so we have to train our girls in a good manner in the village so that they don't go astray, are good wives so that the husband is satisfied, and so that nothing bad happens to their families."

Aniva with a root that he grinds up with water, and drinks before having sex

No matter how the villagers may try to justify this custom of hyenas, it's a very harmful practice and something that can damage a woman for her entire life.

Butler writes, "As our conversation continues, Aniva senses that I am not impressed. He stops boasting and tells me that he does fewer cleanings than before. 'I still do the rituals here and there,' he confides. Then he tells me: 'I am stopping.'"

However, instead of protecting people from diseases, it's more likely that the hyenas are spreading them, especially since, according to custom, hyenas must not wear condoms.

The villagers believe that the men who are chosen to be hyenas are handpicked for their high morals and therefore are immune to HIV/AIDS. In actuality, the UN estimates that one in 10 of all Malawians carry the virus, and the probability that a hyena is HIV-positive is high. In fact, when Butler asks Aniva if he is HIV-positive, Aniva admits that he is. And even worse, he doesn't disclose his health status to the people who hire him.

Butler writes, "All of those involved in these rituals are aware that these customs are condemned by outsiders — not just by the church, but by NGOs [non-governmental organizations associated with the United Nations], and the government as well, which has launched a campaign against so-called harmful cultural practices."

After the BBC story came out, Aniva was arrested on President Peter Mutharika's order. The President said that the police should investigate and charge him over the cases of defilement he had confessed to.

Aniva, Fanny (a widow who was cleansed) with their youngest child, Fanny's sister, and a former client

All photos: BBC

In a statement from presidential spokesman Mgeme Kalilani, he said, "While we must promote positive cultural values and positive socialization of our children, the president says harmful cultural and traditional practices cannot be accepted in this country. All people involved in this malpractice should be held accountable for subjecting their children to this despicable evil."

Check out the video below for more information on this disturbing practice: