If there is a death there is a custom in some villages that says the widow needs to have sex with another man in order to wash away evil spirits. This man is known as ‘the cleanser’ and it can be a family friend, younger man or a stranger. As tradition holds, they must sleep with the cleanser to be allowed to attend their husbands’ funerals or be inherited by their husbands’ brother or relative.
Unmarried women who lose a parent or child must sleep with the ritual cleanser as well.
This tradition is often encouraged, or organised, by elders in the village. But most often this is done in secret and the man is not tested for sexually transmitted infections and HIV first.
This means the girl does not know the HIV status of the man she has sex with. This can mean she contracts HIV from the ritual if a condom is not used. Or she can pass HIV to the cleanser, and he will infect all his partners.
These customs are unsafe and are spreading HIV at explosive rates in villages. In many small villages one in every three people is infected with HIV.
Customs that put your life at risk have no place any more. You can contact the police Victim Support Unit to protect you or visit our Get Help pages below for a list of organisations and safe houses that will help you.