The Commission for Gender Equality insists that parents or guardians who negotiate dowry for their minor children should be arrested. Picture: AP

Johannesburg - The Commission for Gender Equality is sticking to its stance that parents or guardians who negotiate dowry for their minor children should be arrested.

The Commission, which has discussed the high rate of child marriages and Ukuthwala ( the traditional practice of abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage) in KwaZulu-Natal says no excuses will be tolerated when it comes to the violation of children’s rights.

“We are not a cultural or religious state. We are a Constitutional state and the phenomenon of marrying young children is wrong. It is Constitutionally wrong,” the Commission's spokesperson Javu Baloyi said on Tuesday. 

He added through research and interactions with various sectors of society it had become clear that those who took part in negotiating lobola on behalf of their children were using this old cultural practice for selfish reasons.  

According to a 2016 Community Survey report recently released by Statistics South Africa, KZN ranks the highest in child marriages followed by Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. 

It documented in the survey child brides between the ages of 12 to 17 who were married through customary or civil marriages.

Baloyi attributed the shocking revelation that Gauteng was in second place to migration.

“There is quite a strong view that such practices do not happen in peri-urban or urban areas across the country and that people there are not affected by this notion. But people in these regions have cultural beliefs they bring with them. This is why you would also find a high prevalence of young girls being abused by their so-called spouses as there is no one to fend for them because they are married and are told by families to remain strong and solve issues with the husbands who abuse them,” he said.

The Commission also addressed the issue of consent for children in South Africa.

The Sexual Offences Act allows consensual sex for persons 16 years and older.

However, some individuals are using marriage as a loophole to sleep with minor girls as means of protecting themselves from being charged with statutory rape.

Makhosazana Nxumalo, KZN’s Commission for Gender Equality manager said the many of these marriages took place based on cultural and religious beliefs.

She said although the law stipulates that children can consent and that families are required to write letters to Home Affairs as to why the minor should be married off, some of the children were vehemently against being married but were forced to becoming brides regardless.

“The girls we found had not even started puberty and they were forced to marry older men. In other cases, a 16-year-old was to marry a 65-year-old man. This child was so traumatised by this that she ran away.” Nxumalo said.

She added while the commission undertakes extensive consultations with traditional and religious leaders, this does not yield positive results.

“Some deny that this ever happens while some distance themselves from these marriages saying they did not officiate any marriages and that negotiation take place between families when they are not around.”

Save The Children SA advocacy manager Lois Moodley said agreed that the issue of child marriages was a serious concern in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

Moodley said while organisation battled with curbing child marriages, it was time society also took a role in protecting children.

“Child marriages are a violation of children’s rights. We need to start rethinking and reimagining how we see children because they form a crucial component of our society,’ she said.  

The Star