The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) recently released a report on its investigation into the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Provincial Government's response to the practice of ukuthwala in the province - the abduction and forced marriage of predominantly underage girls. This report revealed that young girls are at risk of being abducted under the guise of the traditional practice of ukuthwala, and that while provincial departments and some traditional leaders are innovating in outreach and information dissemination interventions to raise awareness among girls and their families within affected communities, much work is still required to ensure a coordinated response by authorities in response to instances of ukuthwala, particularly to ensure investigation and prosecution of reported cases, and to log and track statistics of the incidence of the practice.
At the dialogue convened to launch and deliberate on report findings, participants indicated that the holiday period creates a particularly vulnerable period for young girls. A representative from a community organisation based in Ixopo warned that upon the return of migrant workers from Johannesburg, many young girls are likely to be abducted in her area.
This week the CGE received a complaint from a civil society organisation in Ematsheni, Umzimkhulu, requesting an urgent intervention. Six school girls between the ages of fifteen and twenty had reportedly been targeted for ukuthwala by older migrant workers in the area. It was alleged that there is a list in circulation with the names of the girls, and that some of their parents are collaborating with these plans to marry them off.
The CGE has immediately engaged with relevant provincial authorities to request an urgent and immediate response to protect these young girls, investigate the allegations and charge and prosecute the perpetrators. Interventions need to send out a clear message that forced ukuthwala of minors is illegal and will not be tolerated.
The CGE has in particular made the following recommendations to the KZN Ukuthwala Provincial Task Team, coordinated by the Office of the Premier, located in the Office on the Rights of a Child:
Urgently establish and publicise an ukuthwala hotline, or toll-free number that will serve as a crisis number for girls to report threats and instances of ukuthwala and get immediate assistance;
Designate officials to receive reports of ukuthwala during the festive season
Devise a coordinated response strategy to ensure that representatives from relevant offices of the Department of Social Development, local SAPS stations and National Prosecution Authority officials are dispatched to intervene and respond to individual cases accordingly.
The CGE will be monitoring this particular case very closely to ensure the safety and future of these young girls is not compromised.