Salvation Army in South Africa works to end child marriage

UNICEF estimates that if current trends hold, the number of child brides in Africa would more than double by 2050.

As part of a campaign to end violence against women and children, The Salvation Army in South Africa called for an end to the cultural practice of “ukuthwala,” the Zulu tradition of forcing girls into arranged marriages, often with the consent of their parents. Though it occurs mainly in rural areas, reports of ukuthwala in other parts of the country have surfaced.

“While South Africa does not appear to have the same levels of child marriage that countries such as Nigeria and Mozambique do, it’s nevertheless not unknown for girl children, some as young as 8 years old, to be forced into marriage through the cultural custom of ‘ukuthwala,’” said Major Carin Holmes in a statement.

According to a Gender Across Borders study, ukuthwala was originally a practice that fulfilled many functions in the family. Once a girl entered into a man’s home, she was treated respectfully. However, that tradition changed over time due to socioeconomic and political pressures.

“Ukuthwala now usually involves a girl, reported to be as young as 9 or 10 years old, being married to men, sometimes five times her age,” the study noted. “They are beaten if they object, and very often raped to prevent parents from initiating efforts to have the girl returned or to report the matter.”

A new UNICEF report estimates that if current trends hold and Africa’s population continues to grow at its expected rate, the number of child brides in Africa would more than double in the next 35 years, to 310 million married girls.

As Holmes said, “We need to work harder to highlight the plight of these young child brides and bring pressure to bear to end this practice, which is another form of human trafficking.”

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