Forced Marriages in South Africa

As I was eating my cereal this morning and watching the news (as you do) a story came on about South Africa. I’ve always been really interested in South Africa, and spent some time there this past summer, so even though I was running late for work by this point I sat and watched the report. 

In rural communities of the, gorgeous, Eastern Cape girls as young as 14 are being sold against their will into marriage by their parents. The girls in the story had all been sold in exchange for either livestock or grain. The journalist visited a safe house set up for girls who had run away from their marriages, and they spoke of being beaten and raped by their husbands.

The elders of the communities call this a ‘tribal tradition’ and one village leader and his wife agreed that the arrangement had worked fine in their case.

This kind of tradition seems completely detached from my reality, and something I would never stand for; girls are being sold and are often being exploited by their husbands. But in the context of local tradition I’m not as quick to call this ‘human trafficking’. I always find it so hard to balance my two sides- the strong human rights activist and the believer in respecting local culture and tradition without imposing my own values. So I was just wondering what other people thought…are these forced marriages cases of human trafficking?

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3 thoughts on “Forced Marriages in South Africa

  1. Suzy Van Rooyen

    I am South African / Zimbabwean & boy does this article make my skin crawl! To me if the girls do not agree & are sold / taken against their will, its most definitely trafficking. How sad is it where the one says she was begging her mom to help when ‘the man’ came for her? Its just ghastly & too much to think about it – the whole article is shocking. I do think that some arranged marriages turn out ok & the man is decent etc (apparently in India the girl still agrees or not once the husband is found)? But the scenarios portrayed in this article are just horrific.

  2. Jolyon Smithers

    I’m inclined to agree that we should view this as human trafficking, although I guess it may be worth keeping a distinction between trafficking and forced marriage more generally. Would it make a difference if no money changed hands? Does the fact that they are sold rather than just given make it better or worse? As for ‘tribal tradition’, respect for other cultures can only go so far. The question is, whose culture is it that we are respecting, and whose tradition? Certainly not the girls’…

  3. The stories you read about are just horrific, and it’s such a hard distinction for me to make between respecting cultural differences and respecting human rights. I completely agree with you Jolyon, that the lives and rights of these girls are definitely not being respected. It does seem that it is the local men benefiting from these agreements.

    As for whether this is human trafficking or not, I’m still not sure myself. I suppose a distinguising factor between trafficking and forced marriage is the idea of deception, did the girls know what they were marrying into or are they tricked and coerced?

    I think it’s really interesting Suzy as you are South African and Zimbabwean to read your opinion on what happens. And would love to hear more of your ideas and views, especially now with so many eyes on South Africa leading up to the World Cup.

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