08/12/2012 – Rape, abduction and trafficking must not be disguised as a customary practice

Rape, abduction and trafficking must not be disguised as a customary practice

ACDP concerned about new perversions Ukuthwala customs

KwaZulu-Natal, December 7, 2012 – The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has identified a new trend – the perversion and twisting of the customary practice of Ukhuthwala – as an issue that needs to be addressed.

This is one of the 16 issues that the ACDP is tackling through its Vikiela (isiZulu: Protect) campaign, during the national 16 Days of Activism Against Woman and Child Abuse campaign.

This rite of passage is currently being abused by some men to justify abduction of young girls, often as young as 8 years old, and then rape, impregnate and force them into marriage. The party believes that the way Ukhuthwala is being practiced amounts to human trafficking, abduction and rape.

In the traditional version of Ukuthwala, if a young woman wants to marry a man her parents do not approve of, she would arrange to be “twala-ed”. The boy and his peers would pretend to abduct the girl and she would “cry crocodile tears”.

The boy then offers to pay iLobolo for her and the parents would agree to the marriage. There is to be no intercourse until the marriage is settled, and the girl is never forced to marry without her consent. The cultural practice of iLobolo, does not convey ownership of a woman, or give license for sale or mistreatment of that woman, but instead, is traditionally seen as a guarantee of good treatment of a wife, if the parents accept the marriage.

Several incidents have emerged in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, often perpetrated by men of 35 and older.  The ACDP believes that cultural practices have their rightful place, but they should not be in conflict with individual’s rights, or gender rights.

“The age gap, sexual history of the males and the coercive nature of this practice puts women and girls at risk of STDs, HIV/AIDS and various other risks,” said Jo-Ann Downs, ACDP chairman and MPL in KwaZulu-Natal. “This violates various levels of South African Law, and is not even practiced as it should be. These young girls are living in fear and are even missing school because they are scared to walk around in public.”

The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 states that the spouse must be over the age of 18, and that both spouses must consent to the marriage.

“The Constitution of South Africa also declares the right to dignity, freedom and security of the person,” said Downs. “Girls who are subjected to un-customary Ukhuthwala have these rights obliterated.”

The Children’s Act of 1998 also deems any behavior that facilitates the trafficking of children, illegal. “Kidnapping and then paying the family for the rape of a child constitutes trafficking and moreover, intercourse with a minor under the age of 16 is statutory rape.”

The ACDP is also concerned about young girls’ rights to education. “Those who are forced into marriage most often drop out of school, according to teachers and principals who have raised concern,” said Downs.

“What’s also worrying is that the young girls have no recourse, as they are bound by culture, compelled to silence, and when they run away, their families often send them back,” said Downs. “There have even been reports that some police in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape condone this practice.”

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has reported that the various government departments, including the Prosecuting Authority and the Departments of Health, Traditional Affairs and Social Development, are not keeping any separate statistics, or reporting, or investigating this issue, which is becoming more frequent. However, the KwaZulu-Natal government has recently set up a task team to investigate this.

“Women have fought hard for the rights afforded to them in the constitution and in the law of South Africa,” said Downs. “The ACDP therefore calls upon the Government to enact these laws, by making sure that cases of unlawful abduction, rape, forced marriage, human trafficking and child abuse guised as Ukhuthwala be prosecuted under the relevant laws, and not ignored as cultural practice. The ACDP also calls on traditional leaders to condemn this practice, to preserve the dignity of culture, as it should be rightfully practiced.”

“The Traditional Courts Bill, which is questionable in terms of women’s rights and gender issues, could prove to be even more harmful in these cases,” Downs added.

 

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