A court in the southern Malawi district of Nsanje has sentenced a 45-year-old man to two years in jail for having unprotected sex with bereaved widows and young girls as part of that area’s traditional custom of women cleansing. Malawi police arrested Eric Aniva in July, following orders from Malawi President Peter Mutharika. President Mutharika was reacting to concerns that Aniva might have infected the women with HIV.
People from Nsanje braved hot weather to attend the court ruling for a man some of them were hiring and paying to have sex with their relatives.
Eric Aniva earlier told both local and international media that he slept with more than 100 young girls and widows during an initiation ceremony known as “Kusasa Fumbi” or “Removing Dust,” and “Fisi” or Hyena.
Fisi is a traditional custom in southern Malawi: a man is hired and paid to have sex with widows allegedly to exorcise evil spirits that may bring death to the bereaved family.
Kusasa Fumbi is another custom practiced in the area: hiring a man to sleep with young girls who have reached puberty in order to prepare them for married life.
Principal Magistrate Innocent Nebi said Aniva violated Malawi’s 2013 Gender Equality Act which outlaws harmful traditional practices. He therefore sentenced Aniva to 24 months in jail for the first count of engaging in harmful practices and another 10 months jail for attempting to engage in harmful cultural practices.
Aniva's lawyer, Michael Goba Chipeta, said he would appeal.
“We feel there are a lot of errors in the judgment which has occasioned the actual miscarriage of justice. Despite all the allegations that were made as to hundreds of women that were violated or used, not even 10 or five were brought to court to testify that this guy violated us or forced us to do this,” said Chipeta.
The verdict has attracted anger and resentment among people in Nsanje.
Dinwell Ching’oma is one of them. He said the sentencing of Aniva will never stop them from performing their cultural practices.
“What government should have done is to teach us to reform our culture. For example, if they just advised us that we should first go for HIV testing before we engage in any cultural practice that involves sex,” said Ching’oma.
Nsanje district is rich in cultural practices that require men to sleep with women. Besides Fisi and Kusasa Fumbi, there are four more cultural practices that require men sleeping with women.
One of them is Dzwande, in which a man is hired to sleep with a single mother when her newly born baby is six months old. Village elders say the aim is to keep the baby away from disease.