In America, forcing a young girl to have sex with a man, whether the child’s consent is obtained or not, is a crime. Both the man and anyone who was involved in forcing the girl will definitely be sent to prison for a long time, no matter what the context of the incident, which we would view as a rape, was. In some parts of Africa, however, forcing a pubescent girl to have sex with a male prostitute is an accepted practice. One man who has settled into such a practice, Malawian Eric Aniva, recently opened up to BBC to let the world know what the job of one of these sex mongers entails.
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Aniva said that one of the more popular terms used to refer to a man of his profession is a “hyena.” It is believed that these hyenas provide the girls or women they have sex with with “sexual cleansing” that all girls should go through before they are able to go out into the world as women.
In most of the communities where hyenas are utilized, which, admittedly, make up only a small percentage of tribal Africa, the age girls begin seeking sex or marriage is much lower than in more developed areas, and generally the girls are submitted to the hyena when in their early teenage years.
“Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls,” Aniva reflects. “Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older.”
One might assume that the young girls that are made to get intimate with a much older man would be averse to the idea and go through with it only begrudgingly, but Aniva reveals that most of his “clients” are actually quite pleased with his service.
“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.”
That is not to say that all girls enjoy their hyena experience. Some girls, such as one BBC talked to, say that having sex with a strange man was the last thing they wanted to do.
“There was nothing else I could have done. I had to do it for the sake of my parents. If I’d refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases – even death – so I was scared,” said the girl.
It is probably safe to say that even the girls who are happy with Aniva’s service when it is rendered soon come to regret it, as Aniva admitted he is positive for HIV. The practice of “sexual cleansing” also forbids the man to use protection of any kind, so every one of the girls with whom Aniva has sex risks contraction of the virus.
The practice is not just limited to young girls, either. Any woman who has recently suffered a loss that will affect her love life — such as losing a husband or getting an abortion — is obligated to hire one of the hyenas for herself.
The job pays what may seem like a low wage, but it is actually an incredibly high wage for someone living in the less developed regions of Africa.
Interestingly enough, both Aniva and his wife, Fanny, recognize that the practice of “sexual cleansing” is an archaic relic and needs to stop.
When asked if she would want either one of their two-year-old daughters to be subjected to a hyena in 10 years, Fanny balked at the idea.
“I want this tradition to end. We are forced to sleep with the hyenas. It’s not out of our choice and that I think is so sad for us as women.”
Even Aniva, one of the ones keeping the practice alive, insisted that it was terrible. He said he would soon quit the profession and that he certainly did not plan on letting either one of his children be part of the ritual.
“Not my daughter. I cannot allow this,” he said. “Now I am fighting for the end of this malpractice.”
Obviously, it will take more than one man to stop the ancient tradition, but the African communities in which it is practiced are also realizing it may be inhumane to keep using hyenas. Many Malawian NGOs and government organizations, such as the Malawian Ministry of Gender and Welfare, are trying to abolish the practice.
“We are not going to condemn these people,” says Dr. May Shaba, a representative at the Ministry. “But we are going to give them information that they need to change their rituals.”
Time will tell if the practice will one day be a thing of the past.
[Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images]