The alarming CNN Freedom Project tells the story of young women being kidnapped as child brides by those who believe that having sex with a young girl can cure their HIV. In many African villages, girls as young as 12 years old are kidnapped and forced to marry older men.
They speak of the term “Ukuthwala,” which translates to “pick up,” which justifies the abduction of young women. In some cases, the kidnappings occur with parental consent. But a concerted campaign to educate these isolated communities of the illegality of under-aged sex and abduction appears to be paying off.
Nombasa Gxuluwe, born in the Eastern Cape, is a field worker for the World Aids Campaign (WAC), and has dedicated herself to trying to end what is essentially the buying and selling of brides, many of them still children.
Nombasa and many other organizations have spent hours talking to the men in the villages, trying to make them understand that the rules are different now. For many, like Timothy Nyawuse, there was simply no awareness that what was being done was wrong. “We apologize for that as we did not know we were breaking the law,” he tells CNN.
Complicating the matter is a chilling, modern belief, as Nombasa explains: “There is a myth that if you sleep with a young girl who is a virgin and as a man you are HIV positive then HIV can be cured. That is why they are focusing on these young girls.” Nombasa said many of the male abductors are older men, widowed by HIV.
They then look for a younger “virgin bride” and invariably end up infecting them too. The tradition has its roots in arranged marriages where parents or village elders have the final say on who girls should marry.