Investigate virginity testing

Allegations that some barely teenage girls at a primary school were stripped in front of their male counterparts while adults examined their private parts from desk tops, are extremely disturbing.

If true, this would be one of the worst cases of abuse of the rights of the girl child which is why the Ministry of Social Services must immediately commission an investigation into the allegations.

It would seem from the reports that community elders suspected some girls were being sexually abused but lacked evidence. The girls, out of fear refused to talk. The communities may have decided to go back to what “has worked in the past,” virginity tests.

For centuries, the virginity of an African girl has been a symbol of how cultured and reputable a family was.

The proud families would justify the perfect upbringing by charging more for lobola (bride price) when the daughter finally marries. The globalisation of universal rights and the work of campaigners have seen the practice banned in several countries over the years.

Britain stopped policies that included virginity tests on unmarried women who applied for visas to join “future husbands” in 1979. In other parts of the world, the practice was to continue for decades with India reportedly banning it just some three months ago.

The practice however continues in many communities in a number of African countries inspired by whatmaGobese founder of Nomkhubulwane Culture and Youth Development Organisation in South Africa considers the right culture. It would be unfair if this article ignored those young women who do it by choice as part of their culture.

The different cultural practices in Zimbabwe are remnants of tradition. In all of the known cultural norms, our communities have always valued the dignity of women and the girl child. Childbirth and community midwifery are a case in point.

No men were allowed nearby. No men chose Gynaecology as a career. How times have changed.

In recent years, cultural festivals that celebrate the practice have resurfaced under a contemporary theme. A traditional leader in Manicaland has been at the forefront of promoting the revival by defending virginity tests as a way of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While combating HIV/AIDS is a new theme, traditionally the practice has been based on efforts to maintain social values. Even churches in this deeply religious country have a solid and consistent message: “No sex before marriage.”

In the event that a young woman falls pregnant outside marriage, the cultural practice is to punish the family of the responsible man or boy through paying “damages.” The notion here is that the young woman has no rights separate from the expectations of her family. The responsibility for taking away her virginity, evidenced by the pregnancy, would fall on the man’s family.

Virginity tests may have happened for centuries in Africa, but it has always been a practice done by women elders in the villages and men were never told of when it was done, to whom and even the results. The elderly women in the village may have had other ways of “testing” that did not include the physical examination that respected the right of the girl child. Maybe it was just facilitating a discussion and asking direct questions in a protective environment. It worked then.

Today, Zimbabwe faces one of the most challenging social and economic times. Social Services and the government are failing to protect the girl child from all kinds of abuse. Too many girls are victims of rape by those who mistakenly believe that “sleeping” with a virgin will cure them of HIV/AIDS or help bring luck to their businesses. Other young children, especially Orphans, are sexually abused by members of the extended family who should be protecting them.

Most abused children have no-one to trust or report to in confidence. They lack confidential support. They endure the abuse for years with permanent mental and physical damage.

However it is done, if at all, the human right of the girl child must be top of the list. – [email protected]

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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