Posted on August 19, 2005

Swazi King Drops Sex-Ban Tassels

BBC News, Aug. 19

Swaziland’s King Mswati III has ended a five-year sex ban he imposed on the kingdom’s teenage girls a year early.

The girls have had to wear large woollen tassels as a sign of their chastity since 2001. These are to be burnt in a huge ceremony on Tuesday.

The sex ban was imposed to fight the spread of HIV/Aids. Swaziland has one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates, at about 40% of the population.

The king fined himself a cow for breaking the ban by marrying again.

He took a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife just two months after imposing the sex-ban in September 2001, sparking unprecedented protests by Swazi women outside the royal palace.

Meanwhile, the health ministry has released new figures which show that 29% of Swazis aged 15-19 are HIV positive.

For pregnant women, the figures were 42%.

Ban enforced

No official reason has been given about why the sex ban was ended a year early.

The BBC’s Thulani Mthethwa in Swaziland says the ban was very unpopular with young Swazis.

He says that few girls in urban areas wore the tassels, known as “umchwasho”.

If propositioned by a man, the girls were supposed to throw the tassels outside his house and his family would have to pay a fine of a cow.

But many Swazis were unhappy that King Mswati’s daughters were rarely seen wearing the tassels.

But our correspondent says that in rural areas, the tassels were common because the ban was enforced by local chiefs and some schools insisted that girls wore them to get a place.

“I have it in command from his majesty to order all the national flowers [virgins] to converge on Ludzidzini [royal palace] on Sunday so that they can drop the woollen tassels on Monday,” said a spokeswoman for Swaziland’s girls, Nkhonto Dlamini, in a broadcast on national radio.

King Mswati now has 12 wives and another fiancee.

His late father, King Sobhuza II, who led the country to independence in 1968, had more than 70 wives when he died in 1982.