A South African mayor has awarded college scholarships to 16 young women for remaining virgins to encourage others to be "pure and focus on school," her spokesman said.
The scholarship was introduced this year and has been awarded to young women from the Uthukela district in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, mayoral spokesman Jabulani Mkhonza said. Each year the mayor's office awards scholarships to more than 100 promising high school and university students from the area, he said.
The young women who applied for the scholarships voluntarily stayed virgins and agreed to have regular virginity tests to keep their funding, Uthukela Mayor Dudu Mazibuko told South African talk radio station 702.
"To us, it's just to say thank you for keeping yourself and you can still keep yourself for the next three years until you get your degree or certificate," Mazibuko said.
The grants will be renewed "as long as the child can produce a certificate that she is still a virgin," she said. The scholarships focus on young women because they are more vulnerable to exploitation, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, she said.
South Africa's department of basic education recorded about 20,000 pregnancies among girls and young women in schools in 2014, with 223 pregnant girls still in primary school, according to the South African Broadcasting Corporation. A household survey conducted by Statistics South Africa found that 5.6 percent of South African females aged 14 to 19 were pregnant in 2013.
"I think the intentions of the mayor are great but what we don't agree with is giving bursaries for virginity," said chairman for the Commission for Gender Equality Mfanozelwe Shozi. "There is an issue around discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, virginity and even against boys. This is going too far."
Virginity testing is not against South Africa's constitution but it is essential that it is done with consent, said Shozi.
Some activists have called for the banning of virginity testing in South Africa, describing it as sexist and invasive. Those defending the cultural practice say it preserves tradition and has been modernized to teach girls about their reproductive health and HIV and AIDS.