JOHANNESBURG (TheBlaze/AP) -- Initiation ceremonies in South Africa have led to the horrifying deaths of 60 young men and the hospitalization of hundreds of others since May, sparking concern from officials about regulations surrounding a national tradition that determines when a boy becomes a man.
Initiation ceremonies are common in some South African cultures as a rite of passage into adulthood. Young men undergo circumcision and are exposed to near-freezing winter conditions with little clothing for several weeks.
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi blames illegal schools that have opened up around the country, particularly in the Eastern Cape province where the majority of the deaths occurred. They typically operate without professional training or sanitary equipment, he said, scamming the impressionable young men.
In this photo taken Sunday, Dec. 16 2012, Bambatha Mandela, covered in blanket, grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, takes part in an initiation ceremony in Qunu, South Africa in a traditional Xhosa rite of passage to manhood. (Photo: AP)
In this photo taken on Thursday, July 11, 2013, men dance around a boy, covered with a blanket, after he completed his initiation ceremony near Qunu, South Africa. (Photo: AP)
Concern has dramatically heightened over the last few years, as more and more suffer serious injury and death as a result of the ritual.
"Our children are dying like ants. I want the people doing this to be arrested and punished," one mother, whose son has been in the hospital for months following a septic circumcision and penile amputation, said after last year's ceremonies.
The BBC has profiled the history and motivations behind the ritual, many young men describing how they snuck off to the schools to become "real men" as the result of teasing and bullying.
"All the boys in my class had been circumcised and they bullied me and made me feel worthless because I was still a 'small boy'," an 18-year-old explained.
"I felt pressured to go to the bush because that was the only way they would respect me."
In this photo taken on Thursday, July 11, 2013, women arrive to celebrate the initiation ceremony of a relative near Qunu, South Africa. (Photo: AP)
But when they get to the schools, many are beaten and exposed to horrifying conditions to make them "tougher."
After this season's ritual, thirty initiates died within the month and 300 young men were also hospitalized, a government health spokesman said this week.
Ten of those young men were rescued with badly scarred genitals from botched circumcisions.
Health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said in a statement: "The ten initiates' private parts are rotten. They are badly damaged. Their condition is scary."
The government says it has been working to find a way to stop the corruption, while still allowing the traditional practices to continue without interference.