In KwaZulu-Natal province, an area of South Africa that has the country’s highest rate of births to teenage mothers, the options for young women to afford an education are bleak. A local government entity is offering females a free education, with a controversial catch: they have to remain virgins throughout their schooling in order to get the scholarships. This offer is sparking outrage in rights groups who deem it “invasive and sexist.” The female mayor of the uThukela province and creator of the scholarships struggled as a pregnant teenager, and says that the “Maiden’s Bursary Award” will provide an education solution for young, female South Africans and an incentive to reduce teen pregnancy rates as well as HIV and AIDS rates. South Africa currently has the highest rates of HIV in the world, and, in uThukela, around half of pregnant mothers have contracted the disease. Local leaders have tried multiple, unsuccessful approaches for reducing teenage pregnancy and subsequent drop-out rates, and the mayor hopes that the virgin scholarship will offer a compelling reason for young women to remain abstinent and continue their studies. In order to remain eligible for the scholarships, the young women must submit to a manual inspection by a female elder in the community every vacation to confirm their virginity.
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