Thousands of girls in South Africa are queuing up each month to prove that they are virgins, reviving an African tradition seen by many as the answer to the scourge of AIDS.
Bare-breasted teenagers wearing nothing but strings of beads and colorful loincloths regularly submit to the ordeal of having a stranger check if their hymens are intact, leaping for joy when the test confirms that they are still virgins.
(After the tests are done - these girls who passed are given certificates!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Advocates say the revival of the rite, which had died out in all but a few rural areas late in the 20th century, is the most effective way to stop the spread of teenage pregnancies and the deadly HIV virus, believed to affect one in 10 South Africans.
Opponents argue that the practice is unconstitutional, unhygienic and violates the human rights of those being tested.
“Those who are behind the comeback...say that if we test young girls to see if they are virgins they will be fearful and will not engage in sexual activity,” said Phumelele Ntombela-Nzinande, former deputy head of the Commission for Gender Equality.
“We are arguing that this practice undermines the principles of equality, freedom and human dignity. It is difficult to tell whether or not a girl has had intercourse and after touching about 600 girls you can easily transfer infections.”
Girls between the age of seven and 26 lie on a mat in front of the woman doing the test, which only takes a few seconds. It is often carried out with bare hands and the tester seldom washes them.
Girls who pass get white stars pasted on their foreheads and a certificate confirming their virginity.
“We have come here to celebrate and keep our culture going,” 16- year-old Brenda Mkhize told Reuters television after her test.
“It’s better to be a virgin than to have AIDS and have a baby at the age of 16...we don’t see any reason to sleep with a guy, and I think I will stay like this until I get married.”
Mkhize was one of hundreds of girls attending a virginity celebration at a sports stadium near Durban in December.
Afterwards, the girls sang and danced in traditional Zulu fashion.
“We are here because we are proud of ourselves, because we are virgins,” another girl said.