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Vows for cows fuels SA's high teen marriage rate

Inside the life of a child bride

12 November 2017 - 00:02 By TASCHICA PILLAY and LWANDILE BHENGU

Dressed in an isidwaba, a traditional skirt, bride-to-be Sindiswa Mswane, 17, is shy as she steps out of the one-room house she will live in for the next six months.
The teen from Loskop, near Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal, met and fell in love with her fiancé when she was just 14, and is now preparing for marriage. She quit Grade 11 in July this year after he asked her to marry him and paid her parents 11 cows as lobolo.
Mswane joins more than 91,000 girls in South Africa aged between 12 and 17 who are married, divorced, separated, widowed or living with a partner as husband and wife, according to a 2016 community survey released by StatsSA.
The survey shows that KwaZulu-Natal has the highest number of these teens, 25,205, followed by Gauteng with 15,929.
The shocking stats reveal that despite laws outlawing child sexual abuse, girls as young as 12 are being kidnapped, abducted and forced to enter into marriages from hell with men old enough to be their fathers in the name of the cultural practice of ukuthwala.
Child law experts and social workers say the girls are often "sold" into the marriages to overcome poverty in a vows-for-cows arrangement. But they say there is a rising trend for young teens to claim they are in love and marry their older partners out of their own free will.
Mswane is thrilled about her wedding.
"I am in love and want to get married," said the teen, who will wear traditional Zulu regalia for six months while staying at her fiancé's family home before she performs traditional marriage rituals.But for Loskop mother-of-four Sindiswa Mncuwlane, who was forced at 15 by her father to get married, life became hell.
Mncuwlane, who is now 36, was married traditionally after dropping out of school in Grade 7.
"I was taken from my home to a forest where I had to stay for three days," she said.
"The man sent people to my family to say he will pay nine cows for me. My mother reported the matter to the police, saying I did not want to marry, but she was laughed at.
"My father, however, was very strict and believed in tradition. He said because they paid lobolo I had to go live with the man. I did not like going back to my home to visit, knowing they sold me for cows."
Feti Dlamini, 48, was forced at the age of 12 to marry a 20-year-old who fathered her nine children and later infected her with HIV. Her husband died shortly after the birth of their last child.
Dlamini said she was abducted on her way from school and taken "to the mountain". Her parents had no choice but to accept the seven cows that were offered as compensation.
"I never loved him. When he died I was forced to mourn his death because of my children," said Dlamini.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, 18 is the legal minimum age for civil marriage, but teens younger than that can marry if they meet certain conditions, including parental consent.Patric Solomons, director of Molo Songololo, a Cape Town-based children's rights organisation, said parents could face criminal charges under the Children's Act for the sale of children or the exchange of children for reward.
"We are hoping that the final draft of the Prohibition of Forced Marriages and Child Marriages Bill will recognise the rights of children not to be harmed by cultural or traditional practices," he said.
"Even if a child is madly in love and thinks it's right to get married, in the long run it's not in their best interest."
Karabo Ozah, deputy director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, said three different acts dealt with teen marriage.
"If the Marriage Act, the Children's Act and the Customary Marriages Act were amended to have 18 as the absolute minimum age of consent to marriage ... then there would not be any grey areas," she said.
"The law would be clear that a child can never get married. This would also mean that ukuthwala would be an offence if it was practised in relation to children."Law on age of consent a muddle
Karabo Ozah, deputy director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, says there are continued reports of ukuthwala - something that a marriageable age of 18 across the board would prevent.
Ukuthwala - which means "to be carried away" - is the custom whereby girls are abducted and forced to marry at an early age.
A Unicef report put the percentage of child marriages in South Africa at 7% three years ago.
Ages of consent to marriage are provided for in the Marriage Act and the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act. Both acts allow the marriage of children with the consent of parents and the home affairs minister. This does not take away the need for the child to also consent.
The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act sets the age of consent at 16, with younger exceptions where there is parental consent. The law does not set a minimum age below which a child may not marry.
The Marriage Act says boys can marry from 14 and girls from 12 with parental and ministerial consent...

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