In Zimbabwe it is believed that by raping a virgin a man will be cured of HIV. The myth came into being when traditional healers started spreading the idea. That myth is behind as many as ten girls being raped a day.
Every year as many as 3,600 girls are being infected with HIV after being raped in Zimbabwe. UNICEF says that the false belief has lead to the rape of hundreds of innocent girls for almost a decade.
CNN reports that Betty Makoni was just 6 when she was raped by a local shopkeeper. Three years later she watched her father kill her mother. She grew strong using education as a way to speak out and break the silence of child rapes in her nation. She went to university obtaining two teaching degrees. As she watched girls dropping out of school she started Girl Child Network in 1998 to give young girls a place to talk and find solutions to their problems. At the end of the first year there were 100 GCN clubs in Zimbabwe. In 2000 Makoni quit her teaching job to devote all of her time to the program. In 2001 she obtained land and opened the first empowerment village, a haven for abused girls. Girls arrive after being rescued by the police, social services or their community. As soon as a girl arrives she is given emergency medication, put into school and put into counseling.
“The youngest girl I ever came across was a day-old baby who was raped,” said Makoni, 37.
Her work has come with a cost. In 2008 Makoni had to flee Zimbabwe. She lives now in the United Kingdom.
“I left Zimbabwe because my life was in danger as a result of my project being interpreted politically.”
In Essex, England Makoni continues to fight for the rights of women and girls by working with the DOVE project.