An HIV-positive Malawian man has been sentenced to 24 months in jail with hard labour for having unprotected sex with newly bereaved widows.
The practice of “widow cleansing”, when a widow must have sex after her husband dies, was outlawed a few years ago.
Eric Aniva, known in Malawi as a “hyena”, admitted to the BBC to having sex with more than 100 women and girls and not disclosing his HIV status.
In some remote southern regions of Malawi, it’s traditional for girls to be made to have sex with a paid sex worker known as a “hyena” once they reach puberty.
The act is not seen by village elders as rape, but as a form of ritual “cleansing”. However, as Ed Butler reports, it has the potential to be the opposite of cleansing, rather a way of spreading disease.
Hyena is a traditional title given to a man hired by communities in several remote parts of southern Malawi to provide what’s called sexual “cleansing”. If a man dies, for example, his wife is required by tradition to sleep with Aniva before she can bury him. If a woman has an abortion, again sexual cleansing is required.
And most shockingly, teenage girls, after their first menstruation, are made to have sex over a three-day period, to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood. If the girls refuse, it is believed, disease or some fatal misfortune could befall their families or the village as a whole.
“Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls,” Aniva told the BBC.
“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.”
President Peter Mutharika ordered the arrest of ‘Eric The Hyena’ in July.
Mr Mutharika had wanted Eric Aniva tried for defiling young girls, but none came forward to testify against him.
Instead, he was tried for “harmful cultural practice” under section five of Malawi’s Gender Equality Act, for having sex with new widows.
Two women testified against him.
Aniva’s lawyer, Michael Goba Chipeta, said he would appeal against the conviction and the sentence.
The case has attracted international media attention and sharply divided opinion as to how widespread the practice remains.
Last year, Malawi banned child marriage, raising the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 – something activists hoped would put an end to early sexual initiations.