Bursaries limited to virgins

October 18, 2002

Women applying for state scholarships at the University of Swaziland have been told to wear red tassels as a symbol of their virginity.

Swazi king Mswati III, who is also chancellor of the university, revived umcwasho last year, the tradition in which unmarried young women are declared unavailable for sex, as part of the campaign against HIV/Aids.

This month it emerged that the higher education scholarship board will be applying the rule, although it is not clear whether all umcwasho rules, including a ban on shaking hands with men and wearing trousers, will be imposed on existing students as well as scholarship applicants.

The Lawyers for Human Rights in Swaziland group said the rules violated basic human rights.

Women students are angry and defiant. Margaret Ndziniza, a sociology lecturer, said: "The girls wear them [the tassels] to their scholarship board hearings and then throw them away."

Students criticised the king for instituting chastity rules while not observing them himself. Last month, he took his tenth wife, who is aged 17.

Thirty-four per cent of Swaziland's adult population is HIV positive. Umcwasho supporters say the custom will curb the epidemic.

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