The uncle of a teenage girl, the teenager's “husband” and an elderly woman face charges which include human trafficking and concluding a forced marriage for purposes of exploitation. Picture: Raahil Sain/ ANA

Port Elizabeth - A mentally disabled orphaned girl who was allegedly trafficked and forced into a marriage at the age of 13 in 2017, organised by her aunt and uncle, did not understand what it meant to take the oath in a trial underway in the Port Elizabeth High Court on Tuesday. 

Judge Glen Goosen asked the girl, who is now 15 years old, extensive simple questions to ascertain her competence in differentiating right from wrong.

The matter was heard in camera with the assistance of an intermediary with the court finding the teenager competent to testify. 

The uncle and aunt of the girl along with her "husband" face charges that include human trafficking and concluding a forced marriage for the purposes of exploitation. 

The girl’s 61-year-old "husband" faces two additional charges of rape. 

The trio pleaded not guilty to the bulk of the charges on Tuesday except for the uncle who entered a plea of guilty to charges of trafficking in persons and concluding a forced marriage. 

The aunt of the girl, detailed in her plea explanation, that she did not know it was against the law for the child to enter into a customary union at the age of 13. 

“I didn’t know she was that young, I thought she was 15 or 16 years old,” the aunt said. 

The aunt said she had taken the girl into her care after her parents had died. She said her daughter had offered to take the child to Bizana in rural Eastern Cape where she would attend school. 

The woman said she had heard that the 61-year-old man wanted to marry the child. She claimed her daughter had confirmed this. 

She claimed that the girl and the 61-year-old man had been in telephonic conversation with each other. 

The elderly woman said that she tried to discourage the child against getting married but her mind had been made up. 

The woman said she then arranged with her brother, the uncle of the child, to negotiate lobola for the girl. 

She said lobola was set at 11 cows and the man paid R20 000 which was equivalent to four cows and an additional R10 000.

The woman claimed her brother had indicated to the man that he only needed to pay a portion of the money, since he would only be able to consummate the marriage when the child reached the age of 18.

The names of the aunt, uncle and the  “husband” are being withheld to protect the identity of the girl. 

The woman said that as soon as lobola negotiations were underway in 2016, her daughter refused to house the child, because the child would now be a married woman. 

According to the State, the child was forced into “slavery”, forced to stay with the man in Port Elizabeth, cook and clean for him, he restricted her movement and also instructed her as to what she could wear.

State Advocate Zelda Swanepoel said that the “husband” also forced her to stay with her aunt for a time in Bizana, not allowing her to attend school because the marriage had been paid for. 

The woman claimed that she was ignorant to how young the child was at the time. She said during January 2017 the child resisted going back to Port Elizabeth out of the fear her “husband” would rape her again. 

The 63-year-old woman said that she herself at the age of 14, married a 30-year-old man under the Customary Marriage Act. 

“I deny I knew that there was anything wrong with sending her to her husband. I believed I was assisting her,” she said. 

The trial continues on Wednesday. 

African News Agency (ANA)