Picture: Reuters

Johannesburg - As communities wind down for the festive season, the Commission for Gender Equality has called for an end to child marriages and for society to be vigilant particularly during this time of the year.

“We are equally aware that underage marriages tend to increase during the festive season due to the availability of extra cash from bonuses,” the commission said in a statement adding the increase of this phenomenon was of a major concern.

The organisation said a recent report by Statistics South Africa on underage marriages in South Africa pointed to a bleak future with too many young girls, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape falling victim to this practice.

It highlighted that child marriages were not limited only to these provinces and that more communities were affected.

The commission also revealed how in the past it had rescued many young girls including working with the media and police in Mpumalanga to rescue a young girl from being married off to a Sangoma.

“The commission has also assisted a family of a 12-year-old in Gauteng In KwaZulu-Natal, the Commission together with the National Prosecution Authority, the South African Police Services and the Department of Social Development have worked together to help plenty of young girls.”

One of the girls was however unlucky, the commission said adding while the girl in question wanted to further her education, she committed suicide.

In the Eastern Cape the organisation said it was working with traditional leaders in the Lusikisiki area to stop the scourge, it said, was going on unabated.

Religious communities have also been fingered in underage marriages with the Commission saying the practice often takes place in rural areas and some churches where girls below the age of 18 are either are abducted, committed or forced into marriage in violation of their Constitutional Rights and the South African legislation.

In South Africa, anyone under the age of 18 is considered a minor.

Lois Moodley, Media and Advocacy Manager at Save Children South Africa said the law in the country required that parents consent to a child’s marriage but added it was silent on the issue of consent from the child.

“Hence, parents may consent to such arrangements without asking the child to consent.

The most common reasons are due to the financial gain for the family in the form of the lobola.

Children may feel pressure to support the family and thus be reluctant to speak out.

This is unfair pressure on the child and in some instances, they are robbed of a childhood,” Moodley said.

She added if children are prevented from attending school, denied access to health care, are sexually assaulted and or emotionally abused this is a direct infringement of their right to a happy, healthy childhood.

“We need to consider the impact of this on our society and educate families on the importance of investing in our children particularly girl children. If we invest in girls’ education they will be in a better financial position to take care of their families, in so doing we break the cycle of poverty,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Commission said underage marriages were illegal and it was incumbent upon citizens to ensure it ends them.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal 5 talks about the empowering of young girls. This can only help if we ensure that child marriages are stopped. Parents, guardians or those who facilitate these marriages must be arrested and face the full might of the law,” it said.

Politics and Development Hub