Men called Hyenas are paid to have sex with children in parts of Africa.

There was nothing else I could have done. I had to do it for the sake of my parents, If I’d refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases – even death – so I was scared.”  -Maria a young girl forced to have sex with a hyena

NPR Radio broadcast click to listen Hyenas and the young African girls in Malawi

NPR Radio broadcast, click to listen.

In some remote southern regions of Malawi, it’s traditional for girls to be made to have sex with a paid sex worker known as a “hyena” once they reach puberty. The act is not seen by village elders as rape, but as a form of ritual “cleansing”. However, as Ed Butler reports, it has the potential to be the opposite of cleansing – a way of spreading disease.

I meet Eric Aniva in the dusty yard of his three-room shack in Nsanje district in southern Malawi. Goats and chickens graze in the dirt outside. Wearing a grimy green shirt, and walking with a pronounced limp (he’s been lame in one leg since birth, he says), he greets me enthusiastically. He seems to like the idea of media attention.

Aniva is by all accounts the pre-eminent “hyena” in this village. It’s a traditional title given to a man hired by communities in several remote parts of southern Malawi to provide what’s called sexual “cleansing”. If a man dies, for example, his wife is required by tradition to sleep with Aniva before she can bury him. If a woman has an abortion, again sexual cleansing is required.

And most shockingly, here in Nsanje, teenage girls, after their first menstruation, are made to have sex over a three-day period, to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood. If the girls refuse, it’s believed, disease or some fatal misfortune could befall their families or the village as a whole.

“Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls,” Aniva tells me.

“Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older. 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.”

hyenas have sex with young girls in africa

Despite his boasts, several girls I meet in a nearby village express aversion to the ordeal they’ve had to go through.

“There was nothing else I could have done. I had to do it for the sake of my parents,” one girl, Maria, tells me. “If I’d refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases – even death – so I was scared.”

They tell me that all their female friends were made to have sex with a hyena.

Aniva appears to be in his 40s (he’s vague about his precise age) and currently has two wives who are well aware of his work. He claims to have slept with 104 women and girls – although as he said the same to a local newspaper in 2012, I sense that he long ago lost count. Aniva has five children that he knows about – he’s not sure how many of the women and girls he’s made pregnant.

He tells me he’s one of 10 hyenas in this community, and that every village in Nsanje district has them. They are paid from $4 to $7 (£3 to £5) each time.

An hour’s drive down the road, I’m introduced to Fagisi, Chrissie and Phelia, women in their 50s and custodians of the initiation traditions in their village. It’s their job to organise the adolescent girls into camps each year, teaching them about their duties as wives and how to please a man sexually. The “sexual cleansing” with the hyena is the final stage of this process, arranged voluntarily by the girl’s parents. It’s necessary, Fagisi, Chrissie and Phelia explain, “to avoid infection with their parents or the rest of the community”.

I put it to them that there’s a much greater risk that these “cleansings” will themselves spread disease. According to custom, sex with the hyena must never be protected with the use of condoms. But they say a hyena is hand-picked for his good morals, and therefore cannot be infected with HIV/Aids.

Eric Aniva is paid to have sex with children

Eric Aniva is paid to have sex with children

It’s clear, given the hyena’s duties, that HIV is a huge risk to the community. The UN estimates that one in 10 of all Malawians carry the virus, so I ask Aniva if he is HIV-positive. He astounds me by saying that he is – and that he doesn’t mention this to a girl’s parents when they hire him.

As our conversation continues, Aniva senses that I am not impressed. He stops boasting and tells me that he does fewer cleansings than before. “I still do the rituals here and there,” he confides. Then he tells me: “I am stopping.”

All of those involved in these rituals are aware that these customs are condemned by outsiders – not just by the church, but by NGOs and the government as well, which has launched a campaign against so-called “harmful cultural practices”.

“We are not going to condemn these people,” says Dr May Shaba, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Gender and Welfare. “But we are going to give them information that they need to change their rituals.”

Parents who have had more education than others may already choose not to hire a hyena, I am told. But the female elders I spoke to remain defiant.

“There’s nothing wrong with our culture,” Chrissie tells me. “If you look at today’s society, you can see that girls are not responsible, so we have to train our girls in a good manner in the village, so that they don’t go astray, are good wives so that the husband is satisfied, and so that nothing bad happens to their families.”

BBC News, Malawi.

Ed Butler is an award-winning BBC presenter, producer, and reporter with greater than 25 years’ experience reporting on such topics as business, arts, and news from around the world for both TV and radio.

Follow Ed Butler on Twitter


UPDATE by CNN NEWS Anchor Faith Karimi



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  1. Boogers

    What are these people, Muslims? Christians? Pagans? Witches? They sure as hell aren’t atheists.

  2. “Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old” “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.”
    He said while he’s HIV-positive, the families paying him are unaware of his status and for cultural reasons, “hyenas” don’t use protection such as condoms.

    WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THESE FUCKING PEOPLE!?!? When they say “for cultural reasons” what they really mean is for some fucked up religious reasons. People ask a the time “tony, why you gotta be so down on religion, just because you’re not religious why does it bother you when other people are?” THIS! This is the reason, this is the motherfucking reason!

  3. It’s a disgrace what people do in the name of ignorance.

  4. The predominant Religion in Kenya is Christianity, which is adhered to by an estimated 82.6% of the total population.

  5. Disgusting. Please dont tell me I have to respect this cultural practice or cant judge it as wrong. Its wrong thats all there is to it. Not to mention it is child abuse and/or rape.

  6. Dis is Wat a 9mm will do to u hyenas 🔫🔫💯💯

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