Eric Aniva, an HIV-infected man in his 40’s, is known in his village (the Nsanje district of southern Malawi) as a “hyena”, and makes a living by being paid to have sex with children.
In southern Malawi, there is a sacred tradition where a “hyena” (sex worker) uses sex as part of a “cleansing” ritual for young girls and women.
Regardless of his health status, Eric Aniva continues his work and is paid £3 to £5 by locals to perform the sex rituals. Aniva shockingly discloses that he, however, doesn’t reveal his HIV status to a girl’s parents when he is hired for a job.
Speaking to the BBC, Aniva said most of those he has slept with are girls, school-going girls who are just 12 or 13 years old, but he prefers them older. He adds that all these girls find pleasure in having him as their hyena.
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He says they are actually proud and tell other people that he is a real man, and knows how to please a woman.
Aniva currently has two wives who are well aware of his work and claims to have slept with 104 women and girls. He also has five children that he knows about since he’s not sure how many of the women and girls he’s made pregnant.
He is one of 10 hyenas in his community and says that every village in Nsanje district has them. For locals, a hyena’s main duty is overseeing a coming-of-age ritual, where girls take part in sex over a three-day period after their first menstruation to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood.
This sacred tradition involves young women being regularly “cleansed” by having sex with a hyena, sometimes as punishment for an offence such as having an abortion. If the girls refuse, it’s believed, disease or some fatal misfortune could befall their families or the village as a whole.
The village elders, who are responsible for organising the “cleansing”, insist that they are necessary to “avoid infection with their parents or the rest of the community”.
According to custom, sex with the hyena must never be protected with the use of condoms. But they say a hyena is hand-picked for his good morals, and therefore cannot be infected with HIV/Aids.
Government officials in Malawi do not endorse the traditions, neither they actively campaign against them.
Dr. May Shaba, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender and Welfare, said: “We are not going to condemn these people. But we are going to give them information that they need to change their rituals.”
Hear one of the elders, Chrissie, defend the tradition that purportedly cleanses under-aged girls:
“There’s nothing wrong with our culture. If you look at today’s society, you can see that girls are not responsible, so we have to train our girls in a good manner in the village, so that they don’t go astray, are good wives so that the husband is satisfied, and so that nothing bad happens to their families.”