Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) would like to commend Daily Sun for its article “Young girls must flee ukuthwala” (13/03/09, p. 4) written by Mkhuseli Sizani. The article is commended for bringing attention to the practice of forced marriages affecting children, challenging perceptions that it is acceptable, and protecting the identities of young girls who fallen victim to this practice.
The article explains the practice of “ukuthwala”, or forcing girls to become somebody’s wife, with the consent and knowledge of parents. It highlights how this “outdated” custom is still practiced in Kwacele, Lusikisiki in Pondoland.
Media has an important role to play in drawing attention to customs being practiced which are abusive, particularly those affecting the rights, health and dignity of the most vulnerable in society, such as children. Raising public awareness around these customs, and challenging their foundations, is one step towards stopping them, which is one reason why Daily Sun’s article is commendable.
The article provides figures to show the extent of the practice1, and explains how many of the girls had to run away from home in order to escape forced marriages to old men.
The article accesses relevant sources, including a local chief and the principal of a school from which a girl was abducted.
By giving the positions of the Congress of Traditional Leaders in South Africa (Contralesa) and the local chief, who both condemn the practice, the article challenges the belief used to support the practice, that people are “only continuing a custom” practiced amongst their “forefathers”. It also gives reasons for these positions.
For example, the local chief is quoted as saying “Unkuthwala is totally wrong” and that while it did used to be practiced, “it is no longer acceptable because kids have their rights”. He continues, “We condemned this custom because nowadays we are exposed to HIV/Aids and we can’t allow a 12-year old girl to get married to an old man” (Daily Sun, “Young girls must flee ukuthwala”, 13/03/09, p. 4).
In mentioning girls who had been forced to flee their homes, as well as a girl who had been abducted from a school, no details are given which could identify or locate them. This both adheres to the Criminal Procedure Act2 and protects the best interests of the children3.
Daily Sun is congratulated and urged to keep up the good work of promoting the rights and interests of children.
1 The article could have been improved by stating where these figures were obtained from.
2 Section 154(3) of The Criminal Procedure Act states: “No person shall publish in any manner whatever information which reveals or may reveal the identity of the accused under the age of 18 years or of a witness at a criminal proceedings who is under the age of 18 years”. For more information about this, see UNICEF and Media Monitoring Project. 2003. All sides of the story. Reporting on children: A journalist’s handbook, p. 58.
3 The principle that the best interests of the child should be prioritised in all decisions affecting the child is contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Protecting the identities and whereabouts of the children, in this case, helps to protect them from further harm.