In Swaziland there is a traditional law called Imbali YeMaswati or 'Flower of the Nation' to protect the chastity of young Swazi women. It has recently been reinvoked by King Mswati III in hopes of combatting AIDS. They are banned from sex for five years.

Virgins wear a pair of large woollen tassels called umcwasho (the C is a click so don't try too hard to pronounce it). Up to the age of 18 the umcwasho are yellow and blue, while beyond that age they are red and black.

It was announced at the king's 33rd birthday party, on 17 September 2001: for the next five years maidens had to wear them, and were not allowed to have sex, wear trousers, or shake hands with men. Any man who abetted in violating this rule would be fined 1300 emalangeni, or one cow. Some doubts were expressed about how easy to enforce this new law would be.

On 28 September (that's eleven days later) a girl called Nontsetselelo Magongo, aged 17, in the fourth form of the Mjingo High School for Girls, became King Mswati III's eighth wife. He was fined one cow. Young women threw their tassels at one of his palaces in protest.

His eldest daughter, 14-year-old Princess Sikhanyiso, is being educated at St Edmunds College in England, where naturally she is fairly free of the burden of traditional observances, and returned home last weekend wearing the umcwasho and speaking out in favour of them. She was accompanied by her grandfather the High Commissioner, who rejoices in the name of the Reverend Percy Mngomezulu.

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