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End of Swaziland
abstinence campaign leads virgins to vie for king's hand

End of Swaziland
abstinence campaign leads virgins to vie for king's hand

More than 50,000 bare-breasted virgins vied to become the 13th wife of the king of Swaziland on Monday in a ceremony critics say ill befits a country with the world's highest HIV rate. King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, arrived dressed in a leopard-skin loincloth to watch the Reed Dance ceremony, which he has used since 1999 to pluck new brides from the girls dressed in little more than beaded mini-skirts.

Wielding machetes and singing tributes to the king and queen mother, also known as the Great She-Elephant, the girls danced around the royal stadium in the hope of catching the eye of the 37-year-old monarch. "I want to live a nice life, have money, be rich, have a BMW, and cell phone," said one dancer, 16-year-old Zodwa Mamba, who wore a traditional brightly colored tasseled scarf.

Critics say Mswati, who has courted controversy for his lavish lifestyle while two thirds of his subjects live in abject poverty, sets a bad example by encouraging polygamy and teenage sex in a country where 40% of adults are HIV-positive.

Monday's ceremony was the culmination of a week of preparations, which included the lifting of a royal ban on sex with virgins, decreed in 2001 to help rein in HIV. Last week Mswati lifted the five-year ban a year early, ordering thousands of maidens to throw off chastity scarves worn to ward of preying men. (Reuters)

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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