Harmful traditional practices, (male circumcision and virginity testing of girls) and the legal rights of children
Le Roux, Lucinda
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In South Africa the practice of virginity testing is most prevalent in KwaZulu-Natal amongst the Zulu and Xhosa. Proponents of the practice claim that some of the benefits include the prevention of the spread of HIV/Aids as well as teenage pregnancy and the detection of children who are sexually abused by adults, amongst others. In South Africa most black males undergo an initiation when they are approximately 16 years old to mark the transition from boyhood to manhood. Male circumcision is also performed as a religious practice amongst the Jews and Muslims. A number of human rights groups in South Africa, including the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) as well as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has called for a total ban on the practice of virginity testing on the basis that it discriminates against girls, as the practice is carried out predominantly amongst teenage girls. The CGE and SAHRC are particularly concerned about the potential for human rights violations of virginity testing. The problem with traditional male circumcisions in South Africa is the number of fatalities resulting from botched circumcisions and the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases through unhygienic procedures and unqualified surgeons. Also of concern are other hardships often accompanied by traditional circumcisions such as starvation, frostbite, gangrene and infection amongst other health related injuries. Thus, according to human rights activists, when carried out in these circumstances, traditional male circumcisions have the potential to violate a number of rights aimed at protecting boys including the right to physical integrity and life, in cases of the death of an initiate. South Africa has also ratified a number of international treaties aimed at protecting children against harmful cultural practices such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). As such it has been argued by rights groups that virginity testing as well as male circumcisions carried out in the conditions set out above have the potential to violate a number of provisions contained in international instruments aimed at protecting the dignity of children.