‘I am a child bride’

CityPress - - Front Page - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­press.co.za

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.

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