‘Ukuthwala’ an ancient practice

In South Africa, ukuthwala is the practice of abducting young girls and forcing them to become child brides, often with the consent of their parents. The practice occurs mainly in rural parts of South Africa, in particular the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

In ancient Africa, particularly among the Nguni, ukuthwala was a condoned, albeit abnormal path to marriage targeted at certain girls or women of marriageable age. But it did not involve raping or having consensual sex with the girl until marriage requirements had been concluded. The act of ukuthwala, however, was not with impunity; it incurred delictual liability for the culprit, in the form of the payment of one or more head of cattle to the father or legal guardian of the girl.

Today ukuthwala, particularly in the Eastern Cape, increasingly involves the kidnapping, rape and forced marriage of minor girls as young as 12 years, by grown men.

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