South Africa: Young Women Face Bride Abductions and Marital Rape

In parts of South Africa, the bride abduction practice thwala subjects young women to forced marriage and rape. Though thwala was traditionally used as a means for young people to wed if their families opposed the marriage, today it has become a violent practice that abuses young women’s rights and dignity. Thwala bride abductions, which are most prominent in the eastern provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, usually involve the exchange of a young woman for payment to her male relatives. 

According to a recent article, Nonkululeko, a young woman from KwaZulu-Natal, was abducted at the age of 14 after her uncle colluded with her abductor in exchange for several cows. During her abduction, Nonkululeko was physically beaten and raped. Afterwards, she was forced to marry her abductor, who she has now lived with for the past seven years. 

Forced thwala is illegal under the rape and abduction provisions of the country’s criminal code. In addition, thwala is outlawed if the girl is younger than 16, the legal consent age. Marital rape is also included in the South African criminal code. However, most police officers consider bride abductions a cultural and family issue, so these laws are very rarely enforced. Because of community pressures and stigma, women are often reluctant to publicly share their experiences with bride abduction and marital rape. Politicians have mostly ignored activists who try to bring attention to bride abductions. 

Despite these challenges, some legal progress has been achieved in the past year. In 2011, a fifteen-year-old girl successfully pressed rape charges against a man who abducted her, despite the fact that the police inspector initially ignored her complaints. The perpetrator, who was convicted of rape last year, received a six-year sentence.

Compiled from: Bride Abductions “A Distortion” of South Africa’s CultureLos Angeles Times (12 July 2012).