Christmas Reflections on HIV/AIDS and sexual violence
My three children and I love to watch The Charlie Brown Christmas Special on video every December. It's hard to believe that was made in 1965. Charlie's question "Can any one tell me what Christmas is all about?" is a haunting one indeed.
That's not the only haunting question at Christmastime. Rev. Martin Ssempa, who I believe is one of Africa's most passionate church leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS, has been published in a leading Ugandan newspaper, asking what can be done about sexual violence associated with HIV/AIDS.
Rev. Ssempa, who spoke at the first Saddleback HIV/AIDS conference, said:
This Christmas I am praying for the end of sexual violence in Africa. Last week the High Court in South Africa's Cape convicted George Mugalula who killed his five year-old stepdaughter Aakifah Salie due to marital frustrations with his wife, also Aakifah's mother, Faiza Salie. According to court documents, Mugalula was angered and tortured by his wife's many affairs and secret work as a prostitute at "Paradise Penthouse", a massage parlour in Cape Town. Apparently he thought that his wife was working in a night painterly but was shocked to discover that she was listed as one of the playgirls in Paradise Penthouse. This apparently triggered off his violent behaviour which in the end was directed at the vulnerable five year-old who bore the brunt of his traumatised love.
In some African nations, there's a persistent belief, promoted by 'traditional healers,' that sexual relations with a virgin are a cure for HIV/AIDS.
Rev. Ssempa notes:
We need the gospel to dispel the dangerously grotesque idea that sex with a virgin girl can cure HIV/AIDS. This prescription spread by African traditional healers in East and Southern Africa has multiplied sexual violence among virgin young girls and boys. There is a need to condemn this practice both by the perpetrators as well as the healers who perpetuate his dangerous idea.
Among quite a few health care leaders, there's a professional reluctance to address the false traditional belief systems that have arisen in addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Traditional healers are often revered and feared figures in village life. The church has the moral authority to take on harmful beliefs and practices without demonizing the messengers.
At the end of his article, Ssempa points a way forward: Pray & Work.
This Christmas we need to pray and work for the victims of sexual violence that the peace of God will come to them. We also need to pray that the systems which entrench this evil will be broken. May the prince of peace bring a cessation of sexual violence in our land.