Infant rape crisis jolts South Africa
By Charlayne Hunter-Gault
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- A wave of infant rapes has left South Africa shocked and outraged.
In recent weeks, authorities have reported nearly a dozen rapes of infants. A 5-month-old girl was the latest victim. Two male suspects -- one 17, the other 24 -- were charged with the crime.
After emergency surgery, the child was expected to live.
More than 21,000 cases of child rape were reported to police in 2000, most committed by relatives of the victims, according to Reuters.
Now, apparently, infants are increasingly the victims, and many in this nation of 40 million people are outraged.
A protest designed to call attention to the crimes was organized last week and included high-profile attendees such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
She called for vigilance to help end the crisis.
"Responsible men and women must go out and seek out those men who abuse women and children," Madikizela-Mandela said, according to Reuters.
In responding to the problem, some health workers fault the government, saying it has sent "mixed messages" about the cause of HIV/AIDS and has not done enough to dispel the myth that having sex with a virgin will cure or prevent the disease.
Five million people in South Africa, or 1 in 8, are infected with HIV or AIDS, according to recent United Nations numbers.
"The approach of evading the issue, cloaking the situation with misinformation, results in the community being improperly appraised of the facts and allows myths like this to take hold and be propagated," said pediatric surgeon Graeme Pitcher.
South African President Thabo Mbeki recently reiterated he is satisfied with his government's HIV and AIDS program.
On the issue of infant rape, he wrote in his weekly online newsletter, "These acts of criminal and inhuman violence have to be stopped."
Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela's former wife, who heads the ruling African National Congress' women's movement, said the blame rests on everyone's shoulders.
"This is an indictment to our society," she said. "This is an indictment to our country. What is it we have not done?"
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