Girls as young as 13 forced into marriage

EVERY week at least two girls as young as 13 fall victim to the old custom called ukuthwala - being taken by force - particularly in the villages of Lusikisiki in Eastern Cape.

EVERY week at least two girls as young as 13 fall victim to the old custom called ukuthwala - being taken by force - particularly in the villages of Lusikisiki in Eastern Cape.

Most are abducted from the comfort of their homes and in front of their parents, who in many cases are in cahoots with the old men they are forced to marry.

Despite interventions and awareness campaigns about forced marriages, the custom continues unabated in some villages.

Nomvula Duma, 16, (not her real name), who was abducted and forced into marriage by a man three times her age, is still haunted by the abuse she endured.

What hurts her most is that her aunt orchestrated the plan in order to cash in.

"I curse the day my aunt asked me to go with her to fetch water. I lost my dignity, virginity and respect for any man because of what my so-called husband put me through," Nomvula said. "I was 14. I had never had sex before but he forced himself on me. When I refused he beat me up. To make matters worse we had a child. But I love my two-year-old son despite how he was conceived."

Nomvula, who turns 17 in September, was abducted by two men, one of them her "husband". She had to leave school and become a wife to the 48-year-old man, who later left her with his mother to go and work in Durban.

He phoned her in May this year after she had run away and ordered her to tell her aunt to return the three cows he had paid her for ilobolo.

The teenager is one of 19 girls being sheltered at Palmerton Care Centre in Lusikisiki after escaping from forced marriages. The centre also houses orphans and victims of domestic violence and rape.

Neliswa Shabane, 16, bumped into the mayor's daughter, Sibongile, who was driving through KwaNcele. Neliswa had just escaped from a hut after being abducted by five men. Sibongile took her to the Mthontsasa police station to lay a charge.

The mayor, Zoleka LangaCapa, started an awareness campaign that prompted dozens of girls to escape from forced marriages.

Another sad story is that of a 14-year-old girl who was verbally, sexually and physically abused by her husband and his family.

Lindiwe Sikosana (Not her real name) was also forced to marry a 35-year-old man. Her parents accepted three cows as ilobolo. When her siblings cried foul their father said that was how things were done.

"My mother did not want me to go but she had no choice. I cried for three days, refusing to eat or sleep. My mother-in-law would come into our hut to beg me to accept the situation, saying her son had chosen me.

"After a while I realised that there was no going back. I had to sleep with a man I did not love. She and her son called me names when I could not conceive. When I finally did and gave birth, the child was stillborn. The second time I had a miscarriage," said the teenager.

Lindiwe was married for two years. Her husband worked in Johannesburg and came home every two months. She escaped in May after the awareness campaign. She is now back at school doing Grade 7.

Meanwhile, the Treatment Action Campaign has embarked on a campaign to encourage girls to leave forced marriages and to teach parents that ukuthwala is a violation of human rights.

"We were shocked to learn that this custom is still being practised in Lusikisiki. We are educating parents not to sell their daughters for cows. We are also alerting them to the myth that if you are HIV positive and sleep with a virgin you will be cured. We are hoping that the message will filter through," said Nodumo Sigosa of TAC Women's Reference.