About 31 girls from the Nqobile Combined School in rural northern KwaZulu-Natal have to date been abducted under the guise of a practice known as “ukuthwala”. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) commends The New Age for raising the issue in its article “Girls live in fear of being abducted and married” (11/04/2011, pg. 6.)

The journalist, Chris Makhaye, highlights the implications that stem from this practice. His article is an engaging piece that encourages discussion on “ukuthwala” as a practice that is not only illegal, but one that it is being abused by perpetrators who abduct and rape underage girls.

Makhaye not only sought the viewpoints of girls who are the targets of elderly men, but also those of a local principal and teacher; a youth development organisation; as well as the police.

A survivor of an attempted abduction spoke of her ordeal in the article. The 16-year-old girl, who expressed her concerns for other girls who may fall prey to abductions, was given a pseudo name. While the journalist fulfilled his ethical obligation to protect the child’s identity, MMA questions whether or not the necessary steps were taken before interviewing the child, who is reported as “severely traumatised” in the article, in order to avoid subjecting her to secondary trauma. This may result from the child reliving her experience through telling the story.

Nevertheless, the article also highlighted the long-term effects of ukuthwala for communities and in particular girl children in a quote by a principal from a local school which is reportedly the main target of the abductions. “This (practice) is perpetuating poverty in our community, because once a girl is abducted she leaves schools. Without education her future prospects are bleak,” he was quoted as saying.

The New Age also gave a voice to a local teacher who raised the issue of the implications of HIV and other diseases that may result from Ukuthwala and how teachers now have added roles of counselling students who have been abducted.

Chris Makhaye did a sterling job in raising awareness on the subject matter and broader social ills like abduction and rape. He spoke of how the “recent rise of the incidence of ukuthwala” has prompted legislators, cultural leaders, women’s rights activists and government action condemning this practice.

MMA’s view is that practices like ukuthwala which thrive on the vulnerability and abuse of children are wrong and the media should report on them more in order to bring awareness to them.

MMA commends The New Age for this great effort.