Mbabane - Teenage girls in the tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland are incensed over a five-year ban on their sex lives, complaining their boyfriends "won't wait".

King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in Africa, announced two weeks ago the reintroduction of the age-old "Umchwasho" chastity rite.

It requires girls up 18 to wear blue-and-yellow "don't touch me" woollen tassels, while young women 19 and older must wear red-and-black tassels.

Two days after the king's announcement, Lungile Ndlovu, the traditional head of maidens' affairs, announced a five year-ban on sex for all young Swazi women.

"During the (umchwasho) you will be expected to observe a five-year sex ban, no shaking of hands with males, no wearing of slacks, and you will be expected to wear woollen tassels wherever you go," she announced.

The penalty for breaking the ban: a fine of one cow.

In charge of policing the chastity of Swazi maidens, referred to as the Imabali YeMaswati (Flowers of the Nation), will be the traditional chiefs who, under King Mswati, still rule over much of Swazi society.

That came as a relief to one law-enforcer interviewed by the Johannesburg-based Sunday Independent.

"The sex ban is like a 'noble experiment'," he said. Like prohibition in the United States when liquor was banned. That ended with massive lawbreaking."

Some non-governmental organisations, like Swaziland Action Against Abuse (SAAA), which counsels rape and incest victims, welcomed the return to traditional values, saying it would help curb the spread of Aids, which is calculated to have killed 50 000 of Swaziland's one million people.

But says Mandla Luphondvo, an education officer, the organisation was concerned about the ban on young women wearing slacks.

"Experience has informed us that slacks can be a delaying tactic to rapists, and besides that, its part of the school uniform. We use tracksuits in winter," he said.

But the ban has teenagers indignant.

"This is going to deprive us of getting married, because our lovers won't wait for us for five years," said 16-year-old Michelle Martyn from Mbabane.

Lungile Dlamini, 17, said it was unfair of the king, who has seven wives and a fiancee, to expect them to observe the chastity rite while his 14-year-old daughter Princess Sikhanyiso went to school in Britain, out of reach of Swazi law.

"If this was of national importance she should have stayed here so that we can look up to her and see if she upholds moral values," said Dlamini, whose name indicates that she is a member of Swaziland's aristocracy.

In Mbabane, Swazi men say the rite will make them break up their existing relationships, or look elsewhere.

"It is a pity that they (the country's male leaders) expect our girlfriends to carry this thing around when in actual fact they were the ones hunting young girls and promising to give them money. Some of them take a new wife every year," said 24-year-old Sydney Nyembe.

December Dlamini holds a far more radical view: "I think this will promote the commercial sex industry - I think the ladies of the night will be getting a lot of customers in the light of the sex-ban."

Sarah Dlamini, a teacher at the Lobamba National High School at Ludzidzini, Swaziland's traditional administrative capital about 15 kilometres outside the capital, says she felt authorities wanted girls to preserve their values as future wives, rather than for their own good.

"Chaste to what end?" she asked in an interview published in the Sunday Independent.

"Abstinence is a virtue in its own right for a young lady, and you can make a case that it is essential in the age of Aids, but none of this was explained to the traditional authorities," she said.

"Without consulting anyone, they laid down a law that will put tremendous pressure on girls who must resist boyfriends or older suitors." - Sapa-AFP