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Posted December 31, 2005
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Women's Rights Laws and African Customs Often Clash


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All photograps Ellen Elmendorp for The New York Times

Zulu leaders have called virginity tests a revered tradition ideally suited to address modern ills.

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To many advocates of women's and children's rights, the practice of virginity testing is unscientific, discriminatory and - to girls who are publicly and perhaps falsely accused of having lost their virginity - emotionally searing.
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A recent virginity-testing ceremony was also a coming-of-age celebration for the two young girls seen wrapped in blankets. Their parents sponsored the ceremony, which featured prayers to ancestors, a dip in a moonlit river, and the slaughter of a goat.

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Jabu Mdlalose, front, and elders in Lamontville, South Africa, tested a girl and decided she was not a virgin.

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A celebration in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, after a virginity-testing ceremony.
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Duduzele Mquadi, a tester, with Karabo Ngobese, 19, who was found to be a virgin. "At first it was embarrassing," Ms. Ngobese said of the test.
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