Meet Eric Aniva, a sex worker for hire, who is paid to sleep with girls once they reach puberty. Aniva is from the remote southern region of Malawi, a landlocked African nation where tribal elders view this heinous act as a form of ritual “cleansing”. However, it also has the potential to do the very opposite of “cleansing” by spreading life-threatening diseases like HIV.
The practice is said to last up to three days and is performed by local men known as “hyenas” at the request of a girl’s family after she has had her first period. It marks her transition into womanhood.
Aniva claims he’s one of 10 hyenas in his area, and that every village in Nsanje district has them. The hyenas are paid between $5 and $10 each time.
In a recent BBC interview, Aniva confessed that most of the girls he slept with were of school-going age.
“Some girls are just 12- or 13-years-old, but I prefer them older,” he told the BBC. “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.”
Despite his terrible boasting, many local women are now coming forward to condemn the practice, which is believed to train girls to become good wives and to protect them from disease or misfortune. The traditional also dictates that if a wife loses her husband, she must be sexually cleansed before she can bury him. If she has an abortion, it is again required that she must sleep with a hyena.
But this “cleansing” has a darker twist – Aniva is HIV-positive, and says he has slept with more than 100 girls without using protection.
“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,” he told the BBC.
UPDATE: On Wednesday July 27, 2016, Eric Aniva was arrested on the Malawi president's orders and charged with multiple cases of defilement. The president also ordered police to investigate all the men and families involved in what he called “this shocking malpractice”.