December 17, 2017

REGULAR: Where is Child Marriages Bill?

There is no sign yet of much progress on legislation to protect girls from being trapped in forced marriages.

Despite alarming figures of tens of thousands of child marriages in the country, legislation to address the issue, which has been in the pipeline for years, is seemingly still a long way off.

The issue of forced child marriages, and specifically the practice of ukuthwala, recently came under the spotlight during question time in Parliament. Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu faced a barrage of questions from MPs who asked what programmes her department has to deal with ukuthwala.

The Department of Justice defines ukuthwala as a form of abduction “that involves kidnapping a girl or a young woman by a man and his friends or peers with the intention of compelling the girl or young woman's family to agree to marriage”.

StatsSA released alarming figures of more than 90,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who were married.

DA MP Terri Stander asked the Minister of Women in the Presidency what programmes her department have in place to address ukuthwala.

Child marriages came under the spotlight when StatsSA released alarming figures of more than 90,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who were married or in some sort of relationship in 2016.

Shabangu said child marriages are common in South Africa. She added harmful cultural practices will not be tolerated, yet the much-needed legal certainty around ukuthwala is still lacking.

The Draft Prohibition of Forced Marriages and Child Marriages Bill will contain provisions on conviction and sentencing for those who force children into marriage, but this could is a long process.

State law adviser Maite Modiba said the Law Reform Commission must follow processes which begin with publishing a Discussion Paper on ukuthwala, followed by public consultations and the consolidating of verbal and written public submissions.

According to her, this has now been done. “We completed a Draft Report based on those comments. We had a Commission meeting recently in which the report was tabled. The Commission approved the Draft Report, subject to some amendments. We are currently making those changes as recommended by the Commission.”

But there is still a long way to go if you consider that the Discussion Paper, which is the a basis for drafting the Bill, was fist mooted in 2011.

Then minister of Justice Jeff Radebe established an advisory committee to assist the Law Reform Commission to develop the Discussion Paper.

Modiba said only when the Commission approves the report, will it be sent to the relevant minister who will have to consider it and decide whether or not to table it in Parliament.

“The next Commission meeting is scheduled for 02 December. The Report will then be submitted to the Minister of Justice and it will be in his hands to decide after considering it.” She could not confirm when this will this happen.

Meanwhile In her answer during parliamentary question time, Shabangu focused on the legislative aspects of the issue, stating her department’s position on the criminalisation of illegal forms of ukuthwala.

Said Shabangu: “The Department of Women also proposed that the South African Law Reform Commission amend the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act to protect the victims of ukuthwala who have already accepted their condition and consider themselves as married under customary law.”

Many cases of forced child marriages have made the headlines. In 2013 a 57-year-old sangoma in Limpopo married a 13-year old girl. In 2014 a man was sentenced in Wynberg, Cape Town to 22 years in prison for raping and assaulting a 14-year old girl after an ukuthwala incident.

Shabangu labelled this conviction as a sign that the country will no longer tolerate practices that violate women’s rights. She said it is important to engage communities about the anomalies of culture and the rights of women.

“This will help us address the challenge of harmful cultural practices.”

Alicestine October

A version of this article first appeared in ParlyBeat.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 November 2017 13:29

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