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Salvation Army calls for an end to ukuthwala in South Africa

Monday, 7th December 2015  I  For immediate release

As the 16 days of activism for no violence against women and children draws to a close, The Salvation Army has called for an end to the cultural practice of ukuthwala in South Africa.

“While South Africa does not appear to have the same levels of child marriage that countries such as Nigeria and Mozambique do, it is nevertheless not unknown for girl children, some as young as eight-years-old, to be forced into marriage through the cultural custom of ukuthwala. This is particularly the case in rural areas,” according to Major Carin Holmes, PR Secretary of The Salvation Army

Its call comes after a summit by the African Union to address the issue of child marriages in the continent, held at the end of November in Lusaka, Zambia. This is the first time the issue has been addressed by the African Union in a summit.

Major Holmes referred to a study done in 2011 about ukuthwala by Gender Across Borders, which said that ukuthwala was originally a practice that fulfilled many functions in the family. Once a girl was in the home of the man, she was treated with respect and kindness.

The study noted, however, that culture is not static: “Due to socio-economic and political pressures, the tradition changed over time. Ukuthwala now usually involves a girl, reported to be as young as nine- or ten-years old, being married to men sometimes five times their age. They are beaten if they object, and very often raped to prevent parents from initiating efforts to have the girl returned or to report the matter,” the study, part of a series called Culture and Human Rights: Challenging Cultural Excuses for Gender-Based Violence’, noted.

Major Holmes said: “As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to do everything we can to stop the practice of ukuthwala.

“South Africa enjoys one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, with numerous organisations that work to protect the rights of women and child. It is intolerable that ukuthwala being allowed to continue. We need to work harder to highlight the plight of these young child brides and bring pressure to bear to end this practice, which is another form of human trafficking.

“The fact that many of the child marriages are taking place in rural areas, which suffer from high levels of poverty, is perhaps the reason why little fuss is made about it. This practice serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

“Girls who are subject to child marriages are usually not able to complete their education and therefore do not develop to their full potential. This condemns them to a life of servitude and poverty,” Major Holmes said.

In a court case in the Western Cape last year, involving a 14-year-old girl who was sold for R8 000, the magistrate said in her ruling: “It’s intolerable that very serious crimes such as trafficking, rape and assault are committed under the guise of culture, tradition and religion. Both parties to any marriage must consent thereto. Hiding behind now defunct customs to satisfy one’s own needs must be discouraged.”

The AU summit aimed to find strategies to prevent child marriage in the continent, so that the next generation of Africa’s young girls not be forced into sexual relationships before they have completed their education.

The gathering accompanies a new report by UNICEF that estimates that if current trends hold and Africa’s population continues to grow at its expected rate, the number of child brides in Africa will more than double in the next 35 years, to 310 million married girls.

The Southern Africa Territory of The Salvation Army encompasses four countries – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland – and the island of St Helena. Its officers, soldiers and full-time employees provide their spiritual and community services through approximately 230 corps (churches), societies and outposts, as well as through schools, hospitals, institutions for children, street children, the elderly, men and abused women, and daycare, goodwill, rehabilitation and social centres.


Media Contact: Ruth Coggin
Tel: 011-487-0026
Cell: 082-903-5819
Click here to e-mail Ruth
Client Contact: Major Carin Holmes
Public Relations Secretary
Tel: 011-718-6745
Cell: 082-994-4351
Click here to e-mail Carin