Girls still be­ing sold into mar­riage

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - TSHEGO LEPULE

WHILE her peers were get­ting an education and dream­ing about their fu­tures, a teenage girl was mar­ried at 15 and raising chil­dren with a man old enough to be her grand­fa­ther.

This week, the Weekend Ar­gus spoke to 35-year-old Lesedi Ntha­be­leng Moiloa, who was sold into mar­riage two decades ago.

The in­ter­view comes against the back­drop of the trial of Ayanda Vellem, Nokuzo Mtya, Thozama Fukula and Neliswa Fukulu at the Cape Town Re­gional Court in which they face mul­ti­ple charges, in­clud­ing traf­fick­ing a 16-yearold girl from Queen­stown to Cape Town for mar­riage.

The ac­cused face charges of ab­duc­tion, traf­fick­ing per­sons for sex­ual pur­poses and con­tra­ven­ing the Cus­tom­ary Mar­riages Act.

Vellem faces ad­di­tional charges of rape and as­sault.

The State al­leges that in May 2012, the ac­cused ab­ducted the 16-year-old from her home in the Eastern Cape for mar­riage with a 25-year-old man.

Pro­ceed­ings were con­ducted in cam­era this week as de­fence lawyers cross-ex­am­ined the com­plainant.

For Moiloa, who never got to face her ab­duc­tors in court, life af­ter be­ing forced into mar­riage has been about heal­ing.

“I grew up in Le­sotho with my par­ents. At the age of 10, I moved to South Africa to live with my aunt in Bloem­fontein to fur­ther my education.”

“Ev­ery­thing was okay un­til my aunt’s hus­band left the fam­ily and stopped con­tribut­ing to the house­hold. My aunt was un­em­ployed, so sud­denly money be­came a prob­lem.

“Just be­fore my 15th birth­day, my aunt told me I was go­ing to leave school and move to Cape Town but she never ex­plained what I would be do­ing here. I was taken to Gugulethu and told that this was go­ing to be my new home as a mar­ried woman.

“When the peo­ple who I came with got up to leave, I started cry­ing and beg­ging for them not to leave me there.”

Lesedi said she met her hus­band that evening and dis­cov­ered he was old enough to be her grand­fa­ther.

“That night he slept with me and I re­mem­ber cry­ing and ask­ing him to stop and that is the first time he hit me for mak­ing too much noise.

“The next morn­ing, a 2-year-old child and an 8-yearold were shown to me and I was told that they were my chil­dren and I had to look af­ter them. I later learnt they were chil­dren from his pre­vi­ous wife, who had died,” she said.

“I had to cook, clean, do the wash­ing and look af­ter th­ese chil­dren and be a wife in the evening. I had no phone, no way to con­tact my fam­ily and I was not al­lowed out of the house, so I had no friends.

“This went on for five years un­til he died and I fi­nally man- aged to run away... for the first time in five years I stepped out of that yard and I just ran.

“I ended up liv­ing on the streets for a while, where I found out I was preg­nant... I met some in­cred­i­ble peo­ple at shel­ters who took me in. I had my child while go­ing to school and now I have made a new life.

“I have not spo­ken to my fam­ily since that day. I don’t know what they think hap­pened to me, but I re­gard my­self as an or­phan.

“I have made peace with my past. Al­though the peo­ple who did this to me never got ar­rested, I be­lieve they will be dealt with. What angers me is when­ever I read that this still hap­pens to young girls.”

Pa­tric Solomons of Molo Son­gololo said al­though the law makes it il­le­gal for peo­ple to en­gage in forced mar­riages, the prac­tice still ex­ists in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, where young girls are sold into mar­riages with older men.

“Al­though ukuthuwala is re­garded as an old tra­di­tion, some peo­ple try to re­vive it. It of­ten comes out when an older man is found out to be liv­ing with a younger woman and then claims they are mar­ried un­der cus­tom­ary law, in or­der to hide their crimes.

“Chil­dren, and that is any­one un­der the age of 18, are of­ten co­erced to en­ter into such mar­riages be­cause there is a ben­e­fit in­volved for ei­ther the rel­a­tive or person en­gaged in the ne­go­ti­a­tions to trade this child to an older person.

“South Africa falls short of leg­is­la­tion that pro­tects women when they en­ter into mar­riages. It al­lows for chil­dren to be mar­ried at a cer­tain age but no proper mon­i­tor­ing of the cir­cum­stances un­der which said mar­riage was en­tered into.”

The Mar­riage Act states that no boy un­der 18 or girl un­der 16 “shall be ca­pa­ble of con­tract­ing a valid mar­riage ex­cept with the writ­ten per­mis­sion of the min­is­ter”.

As a means of ad­dress­ing the prac­tice of ukuthuwala, the South African Reform Com­mis­sion was man­dated to in­ves­ti­gate. Com­mis­sion spokesper­son Maite Modiba said a draft re­port has been com­piled and sent to the review com­mit­tee be­fore it is for­warded to the min­is­ter of jus­tice for ap­proval.

“We thought it was a prac­tice that was no longer rel­e­vant... but, sur­pris­ingly, it still hap­pens,” she said.

“Ukuthuwala it­self is not il­le­gal; the il­le­gal el­e­ment comes in when it in­volves un­der-age chil­dren and there is no con­sent. In its orig­i­nal form, ukuthuwala in­volves two par­ties who are in agree­ment with a mar­riage... then the fa­ther of the bride-to-be doesn’t ap­prove of the part­ner... and the girl is taken away from the fam­ily and mar­ried off. But we found that there are those who com­mit crimes and hide un­der the prac­tice of ukuthuwala.” Me­dia this week that the depart­ment launched a probe.

Mod­jadji said her 9-year-old daugh­ter lived in Lim­popo but was get­ting ready to move to Joburg to live with her next year. While look­ing for schools in the Rose­bank area, she went to Sax­on­wold Pri­mary and picked up an ap­pli­ca­tion form af­ter hear­ing of its solid aca­demic pro­grammes.

While fill­ing in her form, she noted un­der the “sta­tus of par­ents” sec­tion, there was no way to ex­plain she was a sin­gle par­ent who had never been mar­ried to her child’s fa­ther.

It was when she called the school for clar­i­fi­ca­tion that she was al­legedly told her child

‘I had no phone and was never al­lowed out of the house’

PIC­TURE: FACE­BOOK

A woman takes part in a protest against the prac­tice of ukuthuwala, in which un­der­age women can be force into mar­riage.

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