Police arrest HIV-positive man 'hired to have sex with children'

A Malawi human rights lawyer says the arrest of an HIV-infected man, who was paid to have sex with more than 100 adolescent girls as part of a traditional ritual marking their passage to womanhood, is not enough.

Malawi police arrested Eric Aniva, from the southern district of Nsanje, after he gave a media interview in which he confessed to having sex with the girls for a fee of between four and seven dollars, paid by each of their families.

'Hyena' Eric Aniva is hired to 'cleanse' young girls after their first menstruation. Picture: BBC

The little-known local practice lasts three days and is performed in southern Malawi by men known as "hyenas" at the request of a girl's parents after her first menstruation. The girls are often pushed into arranged marriages afterwards.

The ritual is believed to train girls to become good wives and to protect them from disease or misfortune that could fall on their families or their village.

"Aniva was arrested on Monday after he was summoned to my office," district commissioner Gift Lapozo told AFP.

Malawian President Peter Mutharika had earlier issued a statement ordering Aniva's arrest and calling for an inquiry into the role of the parents involved.

Aniva should "be investigated for exposing the young girls to contracting HIV and further be charged accordingly," Mutharika added.

"Harmful cultural and traditional practices cannot be accepted."

A Malawi human rights lawyer, Chrispine Sibande, commended the president for the gesture but told AP that arresting Aniva was not enough.

“The practice is very rampant in some of parts of the country,” Sibande said, urging a broader effort to end it.

The infected man says he does not disclose his condition to the girls' parents. Picture: BBC

READ MORE: HIV infected ‘hyena’ paid to take young girls virginity as part of ‘cleansing ritual’

In a BBC interview broadcast last week, Aniva confessed to being infected with HIV and sleeping with at least 100 girls without using protection.

"Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older," he said.

"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."

While Avina says the girls he sleeps with don't fear sleeping with him, some young girls have told the BBC they had no choice and feared for their family if they refused. Picture: BBC

However, a number of girls told the broadcaster they had no choice and feared their families would suffer disease or death if they refused.

"There was nothing else I could have done," one girl told the BBC.

"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."

The women believe a hyena is chosen for his good morals, and therefore cannot be infected with HIV or Aids, the custodians told BBC.

When asked, Aniva admitted to carrying the virus, but he doesn't disclose this to a girl's parents when they hire him.

The sexual cleansing ritual is also performed on bereaved widows in Nsanje district to exorcise villages of evil spirits or to prevent another death occurring.

Aniva, who has two wives and was reported to be in his 40s, said a "hyena" was selected by the community based on good morals and that custom did not allow him to use condoms.

One of his wives, Fanny, says she hates what he does, but it brings in income they need to survive.

The people of the Nsanje district believe girls who refuse sex with a hyena like Aniva will suffer disease and even death to themselves and their families. Picture: BBC

She said she hated being forced to sleep with a hyena and doesn't want her two-year-old daughter to be initiated.

"I don't want that to happen," she said.

"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."

Dr Howard Kasiya, health expert and director of the Adolescent Girls' Advocacy Network of Malawi, told the Guardian the ritual was “often a death sentence for girls".

“Malawi has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world and 10 per cent of the population is HIV-positive,” Dr Kasiya said.

Malawi, which has one of the highest HIV infections in the world, criminalises sex with a person under the age of 16.

If found guilty of underage sex, Aniva could be imprisoned for life.

It was unclear over how many years Aniva had been a "hyena".