In India there is a century-old custom called "Kukari ki Rasam", where a roll of thread is used to detect the presence of an intact hymen in young women and girls. It is often carried out so that a bride's family can make money off their “pure” daughter’s hand in marriage. "Impure" brides are normally beaten to reveal the names of their "lovers" and then these lovers are forced to pay large amounts of money to the bride's family. The police claim that they are unable to do anything against this practice as it is not illegal, rather just immoral. Virginity tests are not covered under the Indian Penal Code and are therefore not considered a crime.
In South Africa, community leaders are extremely interested in reviving the old cultural tradition of virginity testing as a way to safeguard against AIDS since it is estimated that 120,000 South Africans are to die this year of AIDS-related illnesses and more than 100,000 AIDS orphans exist. They believe that by testing for virginity, they are protecting themselves by telling people to abstain from sex. Critics, against this practice, believe that both boys and girls just need to be educated about sex, condoms, AIDS, and STD's instead. Leaders, however, refuse to educate about condoms because they believe that this will spark curiosity and that the boys and girls will try it. The Ministry of Health has many concerns about the testing, but will not do anything because of the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic; they do not want to curb efforts to halt the spread of the disease.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and other human rights pacts forbid discrimination against women. Virginity testing is a form of gender-based violence and discrimination. It has the effect or purpose of denying women their rights on a basis of equality with men. In Kenya, The Protection Against Domestic Violence Act, 2015 empowers the police to arrest any person believed to have violated the Act. President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the bill into law in May. It provides for the protection and relief of victims of the vice. The Act defines violence as: abuse that includes child marriage, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced wife inheritance, interference from in-laws, sexual violence within marriage, virginity testing and widow cleansing.
Drawn in defence to part of the Constitution of Kenya, in particular Article 45(1) which states that: “The family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and the necessary basis of social order, and shall enjoy the recognition and protection of the State”, the PADV Act (2015) serves to uphold the human rights of all aspects of the society. Violence under this Act also includes damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or the well-being of the person. In the case of children, the Act states, a person psychologically abuses a child if that person causes the child to see or hear the abuse of a person with whom the child has a domestic relationship.
Although not so prevalent in Kenya, it is reassuring to note that there is a law that protects the perpetrators of virginity testing unlike our counterparts in other parts of the world. This law empowers the police to arrest any person believed to have violated the Act. It allows victims of domestic violence to apply for a protection order. A child may also make a similar application through a guardian, children’s officer or a police officer. A court can direct the involved parties to participate in counseling and conciliation programmes including those provided by religious institutions and any suitable cultural programme.
Further to the various forms of virginity testing taking place in India, there’s the "Paani ki Dheej" (purity by water) or "Agnipariksha" (trial by fire). In the purity by water test, the woman has to hold her breath under water while another person takes one hundred steps. If she is unable to do this, she is not considered a virgin. In the trial by fire test, the brides have to walk with red-hot iron in their hands with just a plate made out of leaves and dough to shield her hands from the heat. If her hands are burnt, she is considered to be impure. Indian women are often not willing to draw attention to this problem, so the government is unable to do very much. Many people feel that whatever happens within the home between husband and wife is private, so education is probably the best route to invoke any change in the cultural practice.
But as Kenya has come to the realization of this law, it is the hope that other governments (and doctors) take a stride in the prevention and response to this form of GBV especially. They can be held accountable through the WHO handbook, “Health Care for Women Subjected To Intimate Partner Violence Or Sexual Violence”, to ensure that they conduct themselves ethically, respect women’s privacy and dignity, and take steps to educate their peers to end the scourge of virginity testing.