November 26, 2005

S.African chiefs slam banning virginity test

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's tribal leaders on Saturday slammed a government attempt to ban virginity testing, saying the age-old custom could help fight the country's deadly AIDS epidemic by discouraging promiscuity.

The tests are conducted by an elder tribeswomen who inspects young girls' hymens to see if they are still intact before the girl marries.

But rights groups say the tests, practiced in rural areas in South Africa, are unhygienic and sexist and justice officials have put forward a bill to outlaw it.

The head of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) told his members at a conference it could prove key to curbing the spread of HIV, which infects around one in 10 South Africans.

"It helps children to continue to lead clean lives. It discourages promiscuity and if children are not promiscuous then we are not going to have instances of unwanted pregnancies but, most importantly, it ensures that the spread of HIV/AIDS is halted," Patekile Holomisa told state radio.

South Africa has the world's biggest HIV/AIDS caseload, with close to 5 million people infected.