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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sex ban lifted

Thousands of Swazi girls Tuesday celebrated the end of a ban on sexual activity that had been imposed as a way to combat AIDS in one of the countries hit hardest by the epidemic.

King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, had reinstated the "umchwasho" chastity ritual for five years in 2001, banning sexual relations for girls younger than 18. But the move was ridiculed as old-fashioned and unfairly focused on girls - and the king himself was accused of ignoring it.

As part of the end of ban, the girls in private burned the tasseled scarves that symbolized their chastity. About 30,000 girls then later joined the king in a two-hour ceremony in Swaziland's national stadium.