An HIV-infected man living in Malawi has said he earns his wages by being paid to have sex with children as a cruel form of punishment or as a "right of passage". Known as a "hyena", Eric Aniva, who lives in the Nsanje district, in the remote south of the country, takes part in traditional ceremonies where older men have sex with children.

In this region it is traditional for girls to be made to have sex with a "hyena" once they reach puberty. Other instances of sexual "cleansing" involving Aniva include having intercourse with a dead man's wife before she can bury him or if a woman has an abortion.

If the teenage girls refuse then it is believed disease or misfortune could befall their families or their village. The act is seen as a form of ritual "cleansing" but can also spread disease. Aniva says that he does not inform the girl's parents when they hire him that he has the potentially fatal sexually-transmitted disease which around one in 10 Malawians live with.

Speaking to the BBC about the three-day period where he takes a child's virginity, Aniva said: "Most of those I have slept with are girls, school-going girls. Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older.

woman in shadow
Eric Aniva is paid to take the virginity of girls as young as 12iStock

"All these girls find pleasure in having me as their hyena. They actually are proud and tell other people that this man is a real man, he knows how to please a woman."

Aniva says he is one of 10 "hyenas" operating in his community and he is paid £3 to £5 ($3.9 to $6.6) by locals to perform the rituals. Despite his declaration that there was nothing wrong with the practice and that the girls actually enjoyed it, one local woman said she was pressured into taking part.

"There was nothing else I could have done. I had to do it for the sake of my parents," one girl, known as Maria said. "If I'd refused, my family members could be attacked with diseases – even death – so I was scared."

Government officials also fail to condemn the "sexual cleansing" in the report published by BBC magazine. Dr May Shaba, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Gender and Welfare, said: "We are not going to condemn these people. But we are going to give them information that they need to change their rituals."