Child brides ‘forced into sex and stripped of dignity’
Bongani Mthethwa | 2017-03-29 17:17:09.0
Image by: Gallo Images/ Thinkstock
Zandile is a 14-year-old Grade 7 pupil from a rural village who walks long distances both to and from school and to collect firewood for her unemployed parents.
Out of the blue during one of those walks‚ she is grabbed by men she has never seen and told she is now someone’s wife. She becomes a mother after her husband forces her to have sex‚ even though this is statutory rape under South African law because of her age.
Her husband‚ a mineworker‚ is often away from home for many months – and through his sexual encounters with other women‚ Zandile risks contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. She is told what to do and she has no choice because she has been stripped of her rights and her dignity. Her body is no longer hers.
This shocking story was narrated by Nozuko Mtshali‚ a final-year law student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal‚ during a presentation at the university’s Howard College on Wednesday on harmful cultural and traditional practices and early marriages.
Although Zandile’s story may be an illustration‚ for some young girls in the country this is a reality. Hundreds are subjected to forced marriages through the so-called cultural practice ukuthwala.
“These girls are usually schoolgoing children. Some are 14 years old. Unbeknown to the girl‚ men negotiate lobola with her parents and they are told that now you are married‚ go to your man’s home‚” said Mtshali.
She said the human rights implications for this practice was that girls were stripped of their dignity.
“Your body is no longer yours. There is no consent whatsoever. In 2017‚ such a practice still exists and continues. Girls do not know what to do or where to go.
“At some point we need to decide which practices need to be done away with. Which practices are harmful to the girl‚” said Mtshali.
Other speakers at the seminar included Advocate Omashani Naidoo‚ a senior state advocate at the National Prosecuting Authority‚ Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit and Thora Mansfield‚ the director and founder of The Open Door Crisis Centre in KwaZulu-Natal.
Mansfield spoke about how young girls were advertised as “fresh young meat at a price” by human trafficking syndicates who turn them into “sex machines”.
“Some are even forced to have sex 20 times a night. It’s not only about human trafficking but about diabolical acts of turning women into sex slaves‚” she said.
Naidoo touched on common law which prohibited marriage for boys under 14 and girls under 12. She said sexual exploitation of young girls was rife because of a perception that they had fresh blood.