A 2016 COMMUNITY survey has shown that KZN has the highest number of underage marriages in the country.
The survey results were released by Statistics South Africa recently and indicate that over 91 000 girls in South Africa between the ages of 12 and 17 are married, divorced, separated, widowed or living with a partner as husband and wife.
The survey showed that over 25 000 young girls were affected in KZN, the highest number in the country, with Gauteng being the second highest with over 15 000 girls affected.
In a statement, Unisa-Africa Girl Development Programme (Unisa-AGDP) chairperson Professor Deirdre Byrne, said the “shocking statistics paint a dire picture for the emancipation of young African children and women”.
“Unicef [United Nations Children’s Fund] found in a study in 2015 that more than one in three African women and girls entered into marriage or union before age 15.
“If current trends continue, almost half of the world’s child brides in 2050 will be African.”
Byrne said child brides “are a toxic combination of regressive gender norms” that make families see their young women as sources of revenue, instead of as a treasured family member.
She said the only way to decrease the number of child brides is through education.
Byrne said the Unisa-AGDP is a joint initiative between Unisa’s Gender Institute, the Thabo Mbeki Africa Leadership Institute and the African Union.
The campaign aims to foster conversations and dialogue on the importance of African girls’ rights to education and freedom as well as to create opportunities for change.
Byrne said African girls don’t receive the same quality or even the same number of hours of education as boys. She said the first of these factors was access to sanitary pads as many girls missed up to five days of school a month because they did not have them.
The second is teenage pregnancies, which usually result in the girls stopping school.
“The other is the gender norms that dictate it is less important to educate a girl than a boy because ‘she is just going to get married’.”
Bobbi Bear (a KZN human rights organisation focusing on children) founder Jackie Branfield said the main factor behind child brides was the “patriarchal system” the country still faced.
She said HIV was another role player as it left children without parents and so older siblings were looking after younger siblings from an early age.
She said she felt the statistics for KZN were “much higher” due to the practice of Ukuthwala.
This is when a young girl is kidnapped from her family by a man with the intention of pressuring the girl’s family to agree to marriage.
“We have to appeal to our men and women of all cultures and races to look after our children.”