'Blessers diluting Aids fight'
The high rate of abductions of young girls and teenage pregnancy is complicating the battle against new HIV infections in the uMzinyathi district of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.
This is according to mayor Petros Mthandeni Ngubane, who told Sowetan that his municipality has put aside more than R20-million towards fighting the scourge of older men dating young girls and providing funding opportunities for girls who are virgins.
"It concerns us as a district that girls are forced to quit school and wed at a young age," Ngubane said.
"Furthermore, in the past years, we've seen a high rate of teenage pregnancy and abductions in our district. Criminals are abusing the traditional practice of ukuthwala [bride abduction] to deprive these women of their constitutional rights to education."
Ngubane also blamed the phenomenon of sugar daddies and blessers for the many social ills bedeviling the district.
"Because of poverty and many child-headed households, older men are taking advantage of the situation.
"They often leave these girls with the burden of HIV."
Ngubane said campaigns to encourage young girls to remain virgins and pursue education would be intensified.
"We will be offering them incentives such as funding towards higher education, including free driver's licences to encourage them to abstain from sex and be empowered educationally," he added.
Cultural activist and academic Dr Nomagugu Ngobese agreed that young women should be encouraged to abstain from sex.
"These initiates are often ridiculed by people who are against cultural practices. They often do not offer alternatives rather than to criticise interventions to help an African child. My organisation is also mobilising funds to assist young girls who are undergoing the reed dance with bursary opportunities. They must be rewarded for contributing in the fight against the scourge of HIV."
In 2016, uThukela municipal mayor Dudu Mazibuko came under fire from gender rights organisation for awarding "virgin bursaries" to 16 girls.
The Commission for Gender Equality took the municipality to task on grounds that the bursary criteria were discriminatory to girls who were no longer virgins.
However, the CRL Rights Commission backed the bursary scheme, saying it encouraged young women to remain pure and focus on education.