Swazi girls refuse to keep virginity

At dawn Monday, thousands of Swazi girls removed tasseled scarves symbolizing their chastity, abandoning an ancient rite revived to combat the modern scourge of AIDS.

The girls arrived at the queen mother's residence at Ludzidzini singing: "Saphose safa ngumchwasho" loosely translated as: "We were sick and tired of umchwasho."

They dropped their woolen tassels in a heap, which state radio said would be burned at a public celebration Tuesday marking the official end of the chastity right. They then bathed in a river in a ritual intended to purge the bad omens associated with wearing the tassels, the radio station reported.

King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, in 2001 reinstated for five years the "umchwasho" rite, 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, according to AP.

With criticism mounting, Mswati decided to end the ban a year early.

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