The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) is seriously concerned at the increase of underage marriages in the country. The recent report by Statistics South Africa on underage marriages in South Africa points to a bleak future to many young girls particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape, however, the phenomena is not limited to these provinces only. We are also equally aware that the underage marriages tend to increase during the festive season(s) due to availability of extra cash from bonuses.
The CGE is also concerned at the incidence of underage arranged marriages within certain religious communities. Underage girls below the permissible age of 18 are either engaged to be married by their parents, or are actually married in contravention of the law. As a result of such practice which normally takes in rural communities and some churches, girls below the age of 18 are either abducted, committed or forced into marriage in violation of their Constitutional rights and the South African legislation, with disastrous impact on their education, health and emotional well-being.
The CGE has (in the past) worked with the SABC and the police in Mpumalanga in rescuing a 13-year-old from being married off to a Sangoma. The Commission has also assisted a family of a 12-year-old in Gauteng from being married off. In KwaZulu-Natal, the Commission together with the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Department of Social Development have worked together to help plenty of young girls from being married off. Unfortunately, we could not save one young girl who, after being forced into a marriage whilst she wanted to further her education, committed suicide. In Eastern Cape, we have worked with traditional leaders particularly in the Lusikisiki area to help stop the scourge that was going on unabated. Lots of young girls were saved through this intervention.
Underage marriages are illegal and it is incumbent upon all of us as citizenry to ensure that we end them. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Goal 5 talks about the empowering of young girls. This can only help if we ensure that child marriages are stopped. Parents, guardians or those who facilitate these marriages must be arrested and face the full might of the law.
Various leaders where underage marriages are reported to be taking place must cooperate and empower citizens to practice within the Constitutional ambits. Those who are licensed to marry should desist from contravening the Constitution by marrying children. Any licensed marriage officer participating in marrying in underage girls must face the full arm of the law as this is in contravention of the Constitution and prohibited under the Marriage Act. The Department of Home Affairs officials must ensure that those they marry are of age.
The CGE is making a clarion call to members of the public who have knowledge of and information of underage marriages and acts of gender- based violence and abuse to call our Toll-Free Number 0800 007 709.