‘I am a child bride’
Girls as young as 14 continue to be forced into marriage in some parts of South Africa, despite the legal repercussions that come with this violation of human rights.
A report released by World Vision this week revealed that the practice is still very common in KwaZulu-Natal.
World Vision conducted a survey in Umzimkhulu in southern KwaZulu-Natal and found that child marriages were taking place under the guise of ukuthwala, an old cultural practice where a girl is abducted by a “suitor” and forced into marriage.
Forty married girls between the ages of 14 and 18 from two local high schools participated in the study. Findings showed that most of their spouses were between eight and 20 years older than them.
Most of the girls got married because they had visited their boyfriends and lost their virginity. One in four were victims of ukuthwala.
Paula Barnard, national director of World Vision SA, said: “The statistics remain alarming. When a very recent and localised survey highlights the prevalence of both child marriage and ukuthwala, it means we’re still faced with a very real issue – our children’s voices are not heard.
“Ukuthwala and child marriages are deplorable acts that affect our children daily. It has to stop. [We have to] give our children a voice through aggressive intervention, education and support by communities, traditional leaders and government,” she said.
An estimated 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. Most of these girls will be in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where child marriages are common.
Studies have shown that by keeping the girl child at school, child marriages can be prevented. In Mozambique, three out of five girls with no education are married by the age of 18, compared with 10% of girls with secondary school education and less than 1% of girls with higher education.
“By implementing workable and deliverable action plans, we can empower millions of girls and women, and remove a major hindrance to both our country and the continent’s future prosperity and wellbeing. Giving a child a voice remains the most importance goal,” Barnard said.