It’s tragic what poverty will force people to do, but what’s happening in South Africa is more than tragic it’s criminal. In eastern Cape province, where poverty is at its worst (with most earning less than $1 per day), girls as young as 13 are being sold, like chattel, to older men who can’t find women on their own to marry. Nolizwi Sinama was one of them. At 14 her family received 3 cows from a 42 year-old widower in exchange for marriage rights to Sinama. For 3 years she endured daily rapes until she was rescued by officials trying to end the resurgence of and old marriage practice called ukuthwalwa. A pre-arranged marriage whereby a man forces a woman to marry him after unsuccessful courting.
“It all happened too fast,” said Sinama. “One day I was a normal girl attending school, the next day I was living with an unknown family and an old man who forced me to have sex with him daily.” “I could not go back home, my grandmother told me never to come back. They sold the cows and got money,” she added.
Sinama is now 17 and living at a care centre with 18 other teenagers who were also forced into arranged marriages with much older men. Ukuthwalwa was normally forced on older, marriage-aged women, but times have changed, nowadays 60 year-old men are kidnapping young girls and forcing them to marry.
Although there are some that find nothing wrong with the practice, most find it abhorrent. One retired academician Peter Mtuze, believes the revival of the practice is wrong and does not belong in a modern day world.
“Children are literally being sold, almost to the highest bidder. This is paedophilia,” said Mtuze. “In the old days men usually abducted women who were of marriage age, not minors. This is not culture,” said Mtuze, adding that in the past, girls who were abducted were not raped.
Police are trying to stem the practice, which has been condemned by the Human Rights Commission and the South African government, but they’re not having much luck convicting either the parents or the abductors.
Captain Nomana Adonis from Mthontsasa police station, which leads a rescue campaign in villages around the area of Lusikisiki, said the abductions were a new phenomenon. “This is new. We believe there may be hundreds of other girls out there we did not reach,” said Adonis. She said a number of “husbands” and parents had been arrested. “In most case the husbands are charged with rape and abduction, but so far we have not secured a single conviction,” said Adonis.
I suppose the best remedy would be to eradicate poverty, but that has been a global problem with not much of a viable solution, yet. It’s tragic whichever way you look at it.