R200 for saying no to sex

Mbabane - Teenage Swazi girls will be paid R200 a month by King Mswati’s government if they abstain from sex.

World Bank money will finance the programme that is intended to reduce HIV transmission in an impoverished country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence rate.

Maidens prepare for Swaziland's annual Reed Dance. The Swazi royal family has denied that financial payouts to girls to avoid sex were designed to ensure an HIV-free population of virgins who could be King Mswati's future wives. File photo: Themba Hadebe. Credit: AP

“The government will pay girls the allowances so they will have money to purchase necessities and can turn down money offered to them for sex,” said Thabsile Dlamini, a health care worker in Manzini.

The deputy prime minister’s office will administer the payouts.

A pilot programme will be conducted to test the effectiveness of weaning teen girls from older “sugar daddies” who offer money in exchange for sexual favours.

Details have to be worked out such as how the girls will be monitored to ensure they are not having sex.

A source with the royal family denied that the financial payouts to girls to avoid sex were designed to ensure an HIV-free population of Swazi virgins who could be King Mswati’s future wives.

The polygamous king has 15 wives and selects teenage girls as his new brides, often at the annual Reed Dance at which up to 70 000 girls dance semi-naked before the royal viewing box.

Studies have found that among the general Swazi population girls and young women aged 18 to 24 are most at risk of becoming infected with HIV. Poverty and lack of female empowerment in the traditional society are cited as reasons for girls’ vulnerability to the sexually-transmitted diseases.

The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and Aids, a government department tasked with co-ordinating Swaziland’s Aids response, has issued statements in the local media citing the need for initiatives to discourage girls from having sex because of economic need.

Seventy percent of Swazis live in absolute poverty. Pubescent Swazi girls often turn to benefactors to purchase basic items like sanitary pads.

The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and Aids said World Bank money had been used to adjust the behaviour of teenage girls in other African countries, although those programmes focused on the girls’ school attendance.

One teenager in Manzini, Zodwa Fakudze, 16, said R200 was not sufficient to discourage girls from accepting gifts from older men to have sex.

“Today’s girls need things, like airtime for our cellphones. R200 is not enough. That is how much government gives my gogo (grandmother) each month and she will never get Aids because no one over (the age of) 40 has to have sex,” she said.

Another girl, Thandi Tfwala, 17, a Manzini high school pupil, noted, “A girl could get R200 for just one sex act. Government must pay more.”

When told the allowance was not intended to put a price on sexual activity but to help make girls independent of the need to take gifts and thus be better able to safeguard their health, she said: “You don’t know Swazi girls. If they don’t get more money they will keep on doing what they do now, even the Christian girls. Our king will have to go to Cape Town for his brides.”

Independent Foreign Service