The HIV/AIDS epidemic and its disproportionate effect on the lives of young people has been a source of major concern in South Africa. Research has, until now, focussed on the broad cultural determinants of risky sexual behaviour among this group and on the barriers that impede the promotion of health seeking behaviour in the context of HIV/AIDS. Still missing is a dedicated investigation into the role of traditional rites of passage customs in influencing the sexual behaviour of young people. This article presents the findings from a study investigating the perceptions of young people from Venda, a former South African homeland under apartheid, of the cultural and educational importance of traditional initiation schools. The results of the study suggest that traditional initiation schools remain both an important rite of passage and source of sexual information for many young people. However, it is also discovered that initiation schools are not currently providing young people with the relevant information to adopt health-seeking behaviour in the era of HIV/AIDS.
Health, Risk & Society (2008) 10 (6) 585-598 [DOI:10.1080/13698570802533713].