Girls stolen to wed

2011-02-03 00:00

POLICE have formed a task team to investigate a series of abductions of young girls in Bergville who are being forced into marriages with strangers.

They have threatened dire consequences for the perpetrators and parents who allow it to happen.

Thandeka , a teenager from Bergville, is still terrified following an attempt to abduct her during the festive season.

“I was going to fetch water with my brother’s wife when two men came from nowhere and dragged me into a car, which was parked in the bush. I screamed for help as they ran away with me.

“My uncle, who was armed with a stick, saw the commotion and came to my rescue,” said Thandeka.

Although the two muscular men had not said a word to her, she knew she was being taken away to live a life as the young wife of a stranger.

The attempted abduction took place in broad daylight on December 26 last year.

The 17-year-old grade 12 pupil of Nqobile High School in the rural village of Ngobe is one of the few young girls at the school who was lucky enough to escape.

“Now I live in fear of being snatched again. Even going to school has become a risk. I don’t want to be forced into marriage because my dream is to be a social worker and rescue my family from poverty,” she said.

The school principal, Nhlanhla Goqo, said about 20 girls from the school have been abducted since 2007.

Since then he had been compromising his school work to fight for the girls’ release and return.

He is currently trying to find grade 11 pupil Slindile (19) who was abducted on January 22.

“Her parents do not know where she is being kept. She was first taken away on December 25. Her father and I managed to rescue her, but on a recent Saturday they took her again,” said Goqo.

He said the young girls are beaten up and thrown into a vehicle “like goats”.

“They are forced into unsafe sex, which results in pregnancy.”

Goqo said a local police station has piles of files opened when the incidents are reported. But he is not aware of any arrests because parents do not press charges.

“I cannot press charges myself unless girls are taken from the school premises,” he said.

Another victim, Bongiwe (18), dropped out of school after her ordeal on June 30, 2008.

She was returning from school when she was forced into a vehicle. She said her brother rescued her from the “husband’s homestead” the following day.

However, on July 1, 2008, she was kidnapped again and taken to a different homestead, which made her rescue difficult.

“In that homestead I was shown a man, who is in his late 30s, and was told that he was now my husband. I was forced to drink a bitter herb, which I was told would help me to comply. But I continued to be rebellious and cried every day. I even refused to go to bed with the man.

“I escaped after a week. Now I live with another man so that they will give up on me,” she said.

Her mother said her daughter’s would-be father-in-law told her his family liked her daughter because she was still under age.

“He said it makes it easier for them to raise her themselves so that she could understand his family’s needs.

“When they forced me to drop charges I complied because in this area it is easy to be killed,” she said.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims

TEXT BOX

CHIEF of the AmaNgwane tribe in Bergville, has denounced the practice of forcing teenage girls to marry men they do not know.

Inkosi Menzi Hlongwana called for law enforcement agencies to intervene to end the “outdated” practice, which is better known as ukuthwala. He said his traditional council does not endorse such a culture.

“This kind of behaviour has no place in our democratic society where girls have the right to dignity. This practice takes my nation backwards as it is forcing girls out of school. It also undermines their dignity.

“For a long time we have been reporting the perpetrators to police. Arrests have been unsuccessful as girls’ parents are normally part of the practice, and call it their culture,” said Hlongwana.

Hlongwane said his people are practising this because they are ignorant of human rights and the law.

“I appeal to the media to help us educate my people that the practice is destroying the future of our girls,” he said.

Local councillor in the area, Mlungisi Ndlangisa said the municipality and Hlongwana’s traditional council are partners in discouraging the practice.

“Whenever we have ceremonies in the area we tell people to stop the practice. We tell them that it is against the law.

“We are only able to assists girls’ families, who are against the practice, to get their children back,” said Ndlangisa.

Joan van Niekerk, Manager, Training and Advocacy

at Childline South Africa said she considers the act a violation of the girls’ rights. She called on police to investigate and rescue those that are still in captivity.

“It opens these girls up to rape within the context of these “marriages” and violations of their right to education,” she said.

She said this violates their right to make their own decisions about who to have sex with and when in the short and long term, and to choose their own life partners.

“We need to actively reach out to these communities and educate both about the rights of the girls as well as the legal consequences of aiding these marriages.

“Parents and caregivers who support this practice are also committing a crime,” she said.

She said she would refer the matter to the criminal justice system.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said police in the province have assembled a task team to investigate such cases. He said perpetrators will be arrested and charged in accordance with the sexual offence’s act. They will also face kidnapping charges.

“We are going to leave no stone unturned. Even parents (of the girls) who participated in lobola negotiations and whoever participated in preventing police from making arrest will have to account,” said Mdunge.

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