Girls living in a small province of Sierra Leone called northern Biriwa are being offered scholarships to college — but only if they can prove they are virgins, an African news website has reported. A community nurse will perform the test, and if the girls pass, they may receive “a lucrative scholarship … for girls between 12 years to 16 years and they could even go to universities with all expenses paid,” said Samuel Kamara, administrative secretary of the Biriwa Youth Alliance for Development Organisation.
This comes on the back of another local ruling from March 2009 that if a girl becomes pregnant, both she and the boy who impregnated her should drop out of school. The aim of these decrees is to combat Sierra Leone’s extremely high child pregnancy and HIV-infection rates.
Incentives are, of course, better than punishment, but the reasoning behind this is crude, and the strategy itself wildly intrusive. Why should a 12-year-old be subject to an internal examination? Will it even be definitive in its proof? It’s a reminder that this is a country where 94 percent of women have undergone female genital mutilation. From a very early age, girls’ bodies are open to intervention and scrutiny by others.
Stigmatizing pregnancy and fetishizing virginity may look like a good way to deal with a country’s health problems. But as the United States has proven, it just doesn’t work.