Ukuthwala – an ancient tradition of physically abducting girls and forcing them to marry – persists in parts of South Africa, according to Mail & Guardian. A teenaged girl in the Zithulele area told M&G:
We see ukuthwala and hear of it almost every day. Young women and schoolgirls are kidnapped to get married and bear children. We are nothing here, just babymakers.
Girls as young as 12 are turning up at local hospitals, injured or pregnant. Zithulele Hospital’s head doctor, Ben Gaunt, who treated a girl who died as the result of injuries sustained in the course of her abduction, told M&G:
Abductions frequently happen in the area but we have not yet seen someone at the hospital this badly injured as a result of one. We are, however, experiencing an increase in the number of 14- and 15-year-old girls who are getting married and then coming to us to give birth. I recently had one girl giving birth twice in one year — once when she was 14 and then she had her second baby when she turned 15.
According to Nomboniso Gasa, a researcher and analyst of gender, politics and cultural issues and former chairperson of the Gender Equality Commission, who has been researching ukuthwala revival for several years, ukuthwala has resurged in a far more vicious form:
Although ukuthwala has always been patriarchal, it has been twisted into a much worse form than it was before. Now, females who are getting thwala-ed are as young as 12.
While women and girls had no say in traditional ukuthwala, their parents did; in its modern manifestation, Gasa says many girls’ families are caught completely unaware when their daughters are abducted with no marriage negotiations having taken place. Gasa attributes the ukuthwala revival to an increased rate of HIV/AIDS-related deaths:
Families and clans faced with the looming loss of lineage due to the high amount of people in their clans dying of HIV-related illnesses are encouraging their sons to marry early or getting brides for older men, who have been married before and have children. They are advocating early coupling and forcing the girls to marry young so that their families won’t disappear. To make things even worse, their new husbands often infect them with HIV, and so the tragic circle is completed.
READ MORE: Abduction a perversion of the past, Mail&Guardian online (December 15, 2011).