World

MALAWI – Meet Eric Aniva: the man who people hire to have sex with their children.

His job would appal many of us, but for Aniva and his village, he is carrying out a sacred custom.

In some remote southern regions of Malawi, it is traditional for girls to be made to sleep with a paid sex worker known as a ‘hyena’ once they reach puberty – a title given to a man to provide what is called sexual ‘cleansing’.

Some teenage girls even are made to have sex over a three-day period, to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood. If the girls refuse, it is believed that disease or some fatal misfortune could befall their families or the village as a whole.

If a wife loses her husband, tradition says that she must be sexually cleansed before she can bury him. If she has an abortion, she must again sleep with a hyena.

aniva-with-root
Aniva with a root which he grinds up and adds to water to drink before sex

Speaking to the BBC in the Nsanje district, Aniva said: “Most of those I have slept with are school-going girls. Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older. 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.”

But girls in nearby villages have expressed displeasure at the ordeal.

One girl, Maria, told the BBC there was nothing else she could have done to avoid having sex with the hyena. “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.”

Aniva, who appears to be in his 40s, is one of 10 hyenas in his community and claims to have slept with 104 women and girls. He says every village in Nsanje district has hyenas and they are paid from $4 to $7 (£3 to £5) each time.

He has two wives who are aware of his occupation, and five children that he knows about – but he’s not sure how many of the women and girls he has impregnated.

But the tradition has a darker twist than just the sexual aspect. The ritual ‘cleansing’ can have the opposite effect – Aniva is HIV-positive.

And he is aware of the risks: “Yes, it’s true that this ritual helps to spread HIV/Aids. I know that, but our custom demands that we have sex without using condoms.”

The government in Malawi is trying to end this custom, but the process is slow.