The act of Ukuthwala, however, was not with impunity;
it incurred Delictual
liability for the culprit, in the form of the payment of one or more herd of
cattle to the father or legal guardian of the girl. Today Ukuthwala, particularly
in the Eastern Cape, increasingly involves the kidnapping, rape and forced
marriage of minor girls as young as twelve years, by grown men old enough
to be their grandfathers.
What is the Impact of Ukuthwala on the Girl-Child ?
Ukuthwala steals childhood. It causes an abrupt end to a girl’s childhood and
the carefree existence that all children are entitled to. Suddenly the little girl
is a wife with a husband and in most instances, children and in-laws to serve
or look after.
- Health: Research conducted with young girls that have been victims of
Ukuthwala and attendant rape, forced marriage and teenage pregnancy has
revealed numerous health complications for the young girls. These range
from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections to pregnancy related
complications such as infant mortality, maternal mortality and fistula related
diseases. These health complications are consistent with findings of United
Nations (UN) Secretary General’s Report on Violence Against Children (2006)
and UN agencies such as the World Health Organization, UN Children’s Fund
and UN Development Fund for Women in countries that are plagued by
forced and early marriages.
- Human development: In virtually all child-marriage cases, the child is
removed from school. Dropping out of school deprives the child education
opportunities, including tertiary education and skills training. The social
development of the child is also stunted as the early marriage and fast
tracking into the adult world skips organic developmental phases.
- Gender equality: Early marriage is a symptom of and exacerbates gender
inequality. If it were not for gender inequality and child abuse, Ukuthwala
would have no place in our society. The subordinate position of the girl or
young woman is reinforced by the fact in most of the documented cases the
girl-children have been forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers
What is the Impact of Ukuthwala on the Community?
- Development: A community’s development depends on its people this
includes the level of health, knowledge and education, skills and the
resources controlled by those people. Since Ukuthwala undermines the girlchild’s
access to these opportunities. It indirectly undermines community development. Girls and women who
constitute more than 52% of the
population are part of the critical human
capital that families and communities
rely on for their development. In rural
areas women and girls’ numbers are
even higher and therefore more critical
in rural development.
- Cycle of poverty: There is a proven
link between the lack of education,
underdevelopment and poverty,
Ukuthwala deprives girl-children
opportunities to educate and develop.
Furthermore, research indicates that
the majority of the girls and young
women that are victims of Ukuthwala
are from poor families. Their lack of
education and underdevelopment due
to Ukuthwala deepen their poverty and
perpetuate the cycle of poverty. In many
instances the children born into poverty
tend to be poor also. This contributes to
the cycle of poverty in the communities,
particularly rural communities, where
Ukuthwala is rife.
What are the rights of victims of Ukuthwala?
- Child Care Act: Health care professionals, social workers, educators, and staff
and managers of children’s homes have a duty to report the ill treatment of
children and young people in care.
- Children’s Act: The Children’s Act provides that in all matters involving
children, the best interest of the child are of paramount importance. It also
stipulates the age of consent to marriage as 18 years.
- Domestic Violence Act: A victim of Ukuthwala may apply for a protection
order under the Domestic Violence Act against family members involved in
- Rights under Criminal Law: A girl or woman that has been subjected to
Ukuthwala may lay a charge of abduction, kidnapping, rape and trafficking
- Family law: A girl-child or woman that has been subjected to Ukuthwala
has a right to have the marriage annulled and, where appropriate, claim
- Civil remedies: A girl-child or woman may also claim damages for all harmful
consequences of the Ukuthwala. This may include pain and suffering, missed
educational opportunities, and long-term medical needs.
- Victim’s Charter: The Victim’s Charter holds law-enforcement officers to
specific standards, including victim participation and accountability to the
- Social assistance: It is open to a victim of Ukuthwala to approach the South
African Social Security Agency or any Department of Social Services for a
social grant for their children.
Can culture be used as justification for Ukuthwala?
Culture as a way of life for a group of people, is given a place in our
Constitution. But no culture is above the law. The Constitution is clear that
cultural rights are protected subject to the Constitution. Section 31 of the
Constitution recognises cultural rights of communities and groups provided
that such rights are not exercised in a manner inconsistent with any of the
provisions of the Bill of Rights.
Ukuthwala and the cruelty it inflicts on the girl-child by denying her of her
right to be a child, among other things, are further inconsistent with the
African value of ubuntu.
It must also be borne in mind that culture is dynamic and communities
sometimes discard practices that were seen as benign in the past as they
develop as a people.
In this day and age, the kidnapping and abduction of girl-children that have
barely reached puberty cannot be reconciled with the ancient practice of
Ukuthwala, which was condoned by communities but subjected to delictual
It’s often said that some apparent victims of Ukuthwala feign crying when
they are happy and have tacitly consented to their “kidnapping”. As is the
case with modern law on rape, the law requires consent, not a secondguessing
of the girl’s wishes. The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act
also requires consent.
What can the community do to end Ukuthwala?
To play a meaningful role in combating Ukuthwala, communities can:
- report violations and monitor law enforcement processes to end
- provide life skills education for men to obtain suitors legally
- assist child orphans to ensure that they do not become prey to male
predators and relatives seeking to shun responsibility or to cash in on
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MS N Rampete
Directorate: Gender Issues
Tel: 012 315 1670
Fax: 012 315 1960