South Africa: 138 Boys Rescued From Illegal ‘Initiation Schools’

Johannesburg — A total of 138 boys were rescued by the police after they were kidnapped from illegal initiation schools in several locations in the province of Gauteng, according to local press reports. The bodies of two boys were also recovered. The phenomenon of illegal initiation schools, where crimes such as kidnapping for extortion and the torture of young people are committed, is on the rise in South Africa.

According to the definition of the South African government, “male initiation” in South Africa refers to a cultural practice that marks the transition of young men to adulthood. The cultural custom of “male initiation” includes circumcision. “Male initiation prepares young men to be responsible men in society,” it says.

This practice can be carried out, according to the South African authorities, by “so-called initiation schools, which must meet all health and safety requirements” and “must be registered with the relevant authorities.”

The “initiation schools” are considered educational institutions where the “initiates” learn, in addition to circumcision, “courting, marriage negotiations, their social duties and how to behave as an adult man.” Unfortunately, cases of illegal schools, whose sole aim is to make easy money, have increased in recent years. Several young people are victims of improvised doctors and nurses without medical training.

The increasing number of illegal “initiation schools” is also accompanied by an increase in reports of kidnappings and assaults on underage boys committed in these institutions. In addition to the province of Gauteng, this phenomenon has also spread to the Eastern Cape, the Free State and Limpopo.

So-called initiation practices are widespread in traditional cultures all over the world. In South Africa they are practiced by various ethnic groups that make up the diverse national mosaic.

Initiation is still considered an important part of the education of young people, without which they cannot participate in the activities and social affairs of their communities, nor begin preparing for marriage. These practices are regulated by various national and local laws, which complicates the task of those who must monitor them.