With Christmas drawing close, an alarming rate of girls aged between 14 and 18 from Lusikisiki- in Rural Pondoland, Eastern Cape are being abducted and forced into marriage with older men; some old enough to be their Grand Fathers. This practice is known as Ukuthwalwa and dates back to our own Great Grand Parents but sadly even today it is still a harsh reality to some of our sisters.
According to Girls-Not-Brides, Child marriage is a traditional practice that in many places happens simply because it has happened for generations – and straying from tradition could mean exclusion from the community. But as Graça Machel, widow of Nelson Mandela, says, traditions are made by people – we can change them.
33 African countries set the minimum age of marriage at 18 for both girls and boys, while 4 have set it above the age of 18 for both (Algeria, Lesotho, Libya, Rwanda). However, many countries that have set the minimum age at 18 allow exceptions wherein girls can be married off with their parents’ or the court’s consent. (Africa Child Policy Forum, 2013).
The fact that these girls are being victimized and their rights are being violated cannot not be ignored. They are forced to practice cultural norms entrenched onto them by society and stereotypes. For example, if you constantly tell your girl child that her grave is at her in-laws’, then you live her with no choice but to succumb to such practices.
There are many factors that contribute to the continuation of Ukuthwala. Historical constructs on gender roles, tradition & culture, as well as security play a big role in the logic behind this practice. It is a continuous oppression of women’s rights and is happening globally. Many parents marry off their daughters young because they feel it is in her best interest, often to ensure her safety in areas where girls are at high risk of physical or sexual assault. Little consideration, if any, is given on the young girl’s stance on getting married; that occurs to a point where they feel it is a cultural necessity.
Zooming in on one of the contributing factors, which is poverty, we see that when a young girl grows up eating Corn off the cob which is known as Inkobe, Umqa and imfene and the opportunity to eat a better arises, they go into the marriage institution without parental consent. All the parents receive letter is a letter stating that they should not look for their daughter; In this case it is child marriage that is not physically forced.
I spoke to Xolelwa Mbiko from Rural Ntabankulu. She was battered for just 20 sheep when she was 16 years old and the man she was forced to marry was her pastor who was 3 times her age. He spent most of his time travelling so her wifely duties included travelling with him which compromised her studies Her Husband died over 3 years ago, but she could not return to her home simply because she had to mourn her husband’s death for a year. This ‘mourning’ also included Court battles with his children. She finally got a settlement but it was not enough to sustain her so she choose to go back to school and complete her Grade 12. She is currently studying towards her Bachelor of Education. Xolelwa has a sad story with what may seem like a beam of light at the end, but other young women have it worse and have to live a life they did not plan for.
This gives us a clear picture that the experience must be heartbreaking and traumatic. These girls’ future is bleak with little to no opportunity to gain Educational and financial freedom as a woman, which broadens the gap of woman-to-man dependency and aims to defeat the advocacy on women’s rights and African Feminism.
This is the cruelest form of women and child abuse. It is time for us to unite as a country and stand against this practice.
Lusanda Yose is a 25-year-old Activator from Umtata who obtained her Bachelors in Computer Science at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in 2012.
She fell in love with politics as a student and that is how she joined ACTIVATE!
She works with orphaned children, child-headed homes and abused children. Through this she has managed to establish working relationships with Love Life in Umtata, which is where her meetings are convened with the children.
image source: google