AIDS 'Virgin' Myth Drives
South Africa's Hideous
Child-Rape Epidemic
By Sue Thomas

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa is in shock over a surge in the rape of children and even babies, fueled by a myth that sex with a virgin will protect a man against AIDS, activists said on Monday.
When six men appeared in court in the Northern Cape town of Upington for the rape of a nine-month-old girl on Monday, some 3,000 protesters demonstrated outside demanding the reinstatement of the death penalty for the alleged attackers.
"South Africa has reached a new's one case of many," said Kelly Hatfield, director of a group called People Opposed to Women Abuse (POWA).
"A lot of it is to do with the myth that a man will be cured of AIDS by having sex with a virgin, and how much more virginal can you get than a baby?"
Instead of decreasing with more AIDS education, the myth had taken hold in South African society, she said.
South Africa already has the world's highest incidence of rape.
Three days before the nine-month-old was attacked last week, a three-year-old was raped, allegedly by her grandfather. In the same week a 14-month-old was assaulted by her two uncles.
Police statistics reveal that 21,000 cases of child rape or assault were reported in the past year. Most were committed by male relatives of the victims.
With one in nine South Africans living with HIV-AIDS, sexual assault was often a death sentence for the victim, said Glenys van Halter of South Africa Stop Child Abuse.
One of the nine-month-old's attackers was believed to have the virus, said van Halter, who visited the victim's family.
Van Halter said that while the AIDS myth was fuelling the increase in child abuse, unemployment, poverty and alcoholism also played a big part.
"That's also driving this tremendous increase in child abuse. There's an anger, a disempowerment," she said. "At the moment all we're doing is putting out fires."
Hatfield said the country's hope was its post-apartheid constitution, billed as one of the most liberal in the world, and its courts, which she urged to consistently hand down harsh sentences for rapists.
But progressive laws were often at odds with reality, she said.
"We need the government to acknowledge the difference between positive legislation and poor service delivery on the ground," she said.
"South Africa has a history of violence, we communicate through violence and it will be a long time before we move away from that."

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