Forced mar­riages de­stroy young lives

Vuk'uzenzele - - Front Page - Dale Hes

Ev­ery per­son has a le­gal right to choose who they marry but ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics South Africa, over 91 000 girls in South Africa be­tween the ages of 12 and 17 are al­ready mar­ried, di­vorced or widowed, largely be­cause they were forced into a re­la­tion­ship. Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity le­gal direc­tor Marissa van Niek­erk (MvN) speaks about the is­sue:

Vuk: What is forced mar­riage? MvN: A forced mar­riage is a mar­riage en­tered with­out the free and valid con­sent of one or both par­ties. The pres­sure put on peo­ple to marry against their will can be phys­i­cal or emo­tional (for ex­am­ple, when some­one is made to feel that fail­ure to en­ter mar­riage will bring shame to their fam­ily).

Vuk: What are the rea­sons for forced mar­riages?

MvN: The most com­mon rea­son for forced child mar­riages is fi­nan­cial gain for the fam­ily. In some in­stances, it may hap­pen be­cause the par­ents do not want to deal with un­wanted preg­nan­cies. Lastly, some cul­tural be­liefs state that girl chil­dren must not grow up

with­out be­ing mar­ried.

Vuk: What hap­pens to the life of a young girl who is forced into mar­riage?

MvN: The young girl’s right to dig­nity is taken away. It is only when a per­son is treated with dig­nity that they feel wor­thy and im­por­tant in so­ci­ety. Se­condly, the girl is de­prived of her right to free­dom and se­cu­rity. Young women find them­selves sub­jected to non-con­sen­sual sex­ual in­ter­course and are not given a choice re­gard­ing giv­ing birth to chil­dren. They may also suf­fer phys­i­cal and emo­tional abuse and may be re­fused ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion.

Vuk: Are forced mar­riages against the law?

MvN: This prac­tice goes against the Mar­riages Act of 1961 and against the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights. The ‘hus­band’ may be charged with statu­tory rape, rape, sex­ual as­sault, kid­nap­ping or ab­duc­tion. The rel­a­tives who forced the girl into mar­riage may face charges of sex ex­ploita­tion and hu­man traf­fick­ing.

Vuk: What can be done?

MvN: There is a need to in­ten­sify aware­ness cam­paigns. Tra­di­tional lead­ers must be en­cour­aged to re­port forced mar­riages in their com­mu­ni­ties. Fur­ther­more, the jus­tice sys­tem needs to re­spond ef­fec­tively to com­plaints, mak­ing im­me­di­ate ar­rests and im­pos­ing harsher sen­tences. It is im­per­a­tive that vic­tims re­port the crime to the po­lice. Af­ter this, con­tact must be made with the Depart­ment of So­cial De­vel­op­ment for proper coun­selling and pos­si­ble place­ment in a place of safety. Vic­tims can ap­proach the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity to as­sist with these pro­cesses.

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