Malawi police have finally arrested a man who has had unprotected sex with more than 100 girls as part of a “cleansing practice” after the onset of puberty.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika ordered the arrest of Eric Aniva, who lives in the Nsanje district, and charged him over defilement after he was featured in a BBC documentary for his work as a “hyena man.”
As part of an archaic ritualistic practice, still rampant in primitive parts of Malawi, Aniva was paid to have sex with young girls after they reached puberty.
The ritual is believed to train girls to become dutiful wives and to protect them, their families and village from misfortune and disease.
However, this last part seems unlikely in Aniva’s case as he himself is HIV-positive.
“I started being a hyena in 1985. So far I have slept with 104 women,” said Aniva. “Yes, it’s true that this ritual helps to spread HIV/AIDS. I know that but our custom demands that we have sex without using condoms.”
He said he did not mention his HIV status to people who hired him.
Aniva was paid $4-$7 by the families for each “initiation” ceremony and claimed girls as young as 12 who engage in sexual acts with him are not afraid and proudly report their encounter with him.
Despite this declaration, one local woman said she was forced against her will to take part in the act.
“There was nothing else I could have done. I had to do it for the sake of my parents,” one girl, known as Maria said. “If I'd refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases — even death — so I was scared.”
This abhorrent tradition is not just limited to underage girls. In some villages, a woman whose husband dies is required to sleep with a hyena man before she can bury him or if she has an abortion. Aniva himself has a widow whom he “cleansed” in a similar ceremony.
According to the 2015 U.N. AIDS estimate, 980,000 people in Malawi are living with HIV/AIDS. All of the people involved in the ritual know the practice is condemned by the government and NGOs that have launched campaigns against these cultural practices.
Malawi criminalizes sex with a person under the age of 16 and if Aniva is prosecuted, he could be jailed for life.
“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,” presidential spokesman Mgeme Kalilani said in a statement, and added Aniva would "further be investigated for exposing the young girls to contracting HIV and further be charged accordingly.”
However, some of the elders of the village remain defiant and insist the practice should continue.