Sonke Gender Justice welcomes the sentencing yesterday of a man convicted for the trafficking and rape of a 14-year old girl. “This is a groundbreaking moment,” says Bafana Khumalo, Sonke’s Senior Programme Specialist in response to this first conviction of “ukuthwala” – the practice of kidnapping or selling children for marriage – in the Western Cape. “This is the first of what Sonke hopes will be many strong messages saying that we will not allow culture to be used as an excuse for criminal activity against children,” says Khumalo.
Sonke Gender Justice demands that the criminal justice system not allow human rights violations to be disguised as cultural practices, and urges all leaders, including traditional leaders to condemn such practices. There are many cases of children being kidnapped, sold and trafficked, and we urge that these be taken up in the courts and prosecuted. “There needs to be more awareness that these practices are illegal, and will lead to imprisonment,” says Khumalo.
32-year old Mvumeleni Jezile was sentenced to 22 years in jail yesterday after being found guilty of multiple counts of trafficking, rape and assault. The teenage victim said she was forced by her grandmother and uncle to marry the perpetrator, and that he raped her several times and whipped her when she refused to have sex with him. She escaped two days after he kidnapped her, almost exactly four years ago.
South Africa’s Justice Minister Jeff Radebe released a statement today emphasizing that children’s rights are paramount, encouraging victims to lay charges when confronted with “ukuthwala” and also to use the Domestic Violence Act in order to take action and get protection orders from family members involved in abductions or trafficking.
Sonke supports the efforts of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), the KwaZulu-Natal traditional affairs MEC, the KwaZulu-Natal Premier and the KwaZulu-Natal executive council to address this issue, and urges that this become an urgent national priority, addressed comprehensively in all provinces.
Sonke’s Deputy Director Desmond Lesejane says, “People have been hiding behind culture but we are grateful that the country is moving away from this. There is no excuse for it – not tradition, not poverty. It is inhumane.”
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has said they would charge parents of under-aged girls who agree to their children being forcefully married. “Poverty cannot be an excuse for selling women or children,” says Khumalo, warning that “those who sell their children will be held accountable.”
Many government departments, including the Justice Department, the NPA, and the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities have joined Sonke in welcoming this sentencing as a strong and necessary warning against “ukuthwala” and human trafficking.
- Czerina Patel, Sonke Communications Consultant, email@example.com
- Desmond Lesejane, Sonke Deputy Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bafana Khumalo, Sonke Senior Programmes Specialist, email@example.com