Teenage girls in southern Malawi reject ‘sexual cleansing’
Local organisations are helping girls speak out so communities can abandon child marriage and other harmful practices
Memory Banda beat the odds. In Malawi, five out of every 10 girls marry before the age of 18. Her sister married aged 11, but Banda vowed to finish school. When girls in her village were subjected to sexual initiation, Banda organised literacy classes to teach them how to read.
Growing up in rural Malawi as the eldest of six siblings, Banda remembers hearing about kusasa fumbi, the traditional practice of sexual cleansing common in southern Malawi. This initiation practice forces young girls to have sex with an older man to cleanse their “childhood dust” and prepare them for adulthood. Known as the “hyena”, this man travels between villages, paid by the community to have sex with girls as young as nine, often exposing them to unwanted pregnancy and HIV infection.
This socially sanctioned form of gender-based violence violates girls’ basic human rights, and has devastating repercussions. “Malawi has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world and 10% of the population is HIV-positive,” said Dr Howard Kasiya, health expert and director of the Adolescent Girls’ Advocacy Network of Malawi. “Being forced to undergo kusasa fumbi is often a death sentence for girls.”
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