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23 youths die in initiation rites in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — Twenty-three youths have died in the past nine days at initiation ceremonies that include ­circumcisions and survival tests, South African police said Friday.

Police have opened 22 murder cases in the deaths in the northeastern province of Mpumalanga, according to spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Hlathi.

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He said an inquest is being held into the 23d death, of a youth who complained of stomach pains and vomited.

Initiation ceremonies are common in South Africa, where youths partake in various activities as a rite of passage into adulthood, usually over the course of three weeks.

Some 30,000 youths signed up for initiation this year.

In addition to being circumcised, the boys and young men are put through a series of survival tests which sometimes include exposure to South Africa’s chilly winter conditions with skimpy clothing.

Their faces are painted with red clay and they also are given herbal concoctions to drink.

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