‘Ukuthwala’: rights body slams abuse of practice

2011-02-25 00:00

THE Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (the CRL Rights Commission) yesterday called on communities and rural leadership to fight the scourge of ukuthwala in the province.

Ukuthwala, a time-honoured traditonal custom, has emerged as problem over the past few months. It is prevalent in the Eastern Cape and has been reported in certain parts of KwaZulu-Natal, notably Bergville, where a police task team was set up recently to investigate the abduction of young women to be wedded to older men.

Yesterday, the CRL Rights Commission held a meeting to discuss problems related to the practice. Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluza of the commission, who chaired the session, said that while ukuthwala had been practised legitimately in the past it is now being abused.

She said that when the practice took place, consent from both parties was key.

“In the past, the practice was used successfully as a way to marriage. A young man and woman who were already in a relationship intending to marry, but facing obstacles that were impeding their plans to marry, would agree to carry out the practice.

“The woman would be taken to the boy’s home and she would stay with the female members of the boy’s household and there would be no sex between the two until the lobola negotiations had begun.

“The boy’s family would then send a delegation to the girl’s family to inform them of her whereabouts. At this point the girl’s family would send another delegation to check if she consented to being taken,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluza said.

She said the practice is being abused. “What we are now seeing is something that is completely different to the culture … as many young women are now being raped and bear children at a very young age because of ukuthwala.”

She called on traditional leaders and the Justice Department to deal with the problems arising from the practice decisively.

Some delegates who attended the session also condemned the practice, saying it is tantamount to rape and might subject women to the perpetual cycle of poverty.

“Once ukuthwala has been carried out, the girl drops out of school and bears children at a young age,” said Mkhwanzi-Xaluza.

“You find a 16-year-old who now has three kids because of the practice and this perpetuates the cycle of poverty.”

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