Swaziland virgins must stay chaste for five years

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The Independent Online

Female virgins in the kingdom of Swaziland may not have sex with men for the next five years or even shake their hands, under a royal ruling issued at the end of celebrations to mark King Mswati III's 33rd birthday.

The ruling, which takes effect immediately in the absolute monarchy, is understood to be aimed at combating the spread of HIV infection in the tiny country that borders South Africa. Swaziland has a population of under one million, and 50,000 people have died from Aids, UN figures suggest.

The decree marks the revival of a traditional chastity rule called Imabali YeMaswati (Flower of the Nation) and will be policed by traditional chiefs. It is understood that men who break it will be fined 1,300 emalangeni (£120) or one cow.

Announcing the introduction of the rule, the traditional women's leader Lungile Ndlovu told virgins: "During this period you will be expected to observe a five-year sex ban, no shaking of hands with males, no wearing of pants and you will be expected to wear woollen tassels wherever you go.''

She said women already in relationships and aged over 19 would be expected to wear red and black tassels on their clothing whilevirgins would wear yellow and blue ones.

Swaziland, a Commonwealth country that is devoted to its monarchy despite occasional protests against theregime, is best known for its annual reed dance. The event, which took place this month, sees thousands of young women gather at the polygamous king's compound so that he may select one for marriage. What impact the ruling will have on next year's event is unclear.

The UN says that 25 per cent of Swazis are infected with HIV and the average life expectancy is expected to fall to 30 years by 2010. Last year, the Swazi parliament considered introducing mandatory sterilisation for HIV-positive people.