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Views : Girls, 14, Forced To Marry In South Africa

Girls as young as 14 are still being forced into marriage in some rural communities in South Africa, despite a campaign to end the practice.

Hundreds of teenagers every year fall victim to what village elders defend as a "tribal tradition", most of them in the Eastern Cape.

Girls who had escaped the marriages spoke to Sky News from a secret refuge in the province.
Some said that their own families had arranged for them to be abducted and married off to men they didn't know.

"I cried to my mother for help when the man came for me, but she just told me she didn't want a spinster in her house," one 15-year-old said.

Another teenager said she had been repeatedly raped and beaten by her "husband" in the eight months before she managed to escape.
"It was a very painful experience for me, in the first few days I didn't even know his name," she said.
The girls did not want to be identified for fear of being tracked down by their parents and forced to return to the men they left.

All of the teenagers we spoke to had been exchanged by their parents for livestock or grain.
The refuge where they are staying was set up by Zoleka Capa, who is using her status as the first female Mayor in the area to try to change the traditions of her own people.
"It is totally unacceptable," Ms Capa said. "Forced marriage has no place in a democratic state. It is a violation of rights."
Her campaign has divided the local community where the word of the male elders still holds sway.

"The women tell us when their daughters begin their menstrual cycle," village leader Thobile Ngcwangu said.
"Then the girls are adults not children and they should be married, even to a 60-year-old man," he said.
He declared his own wife - who was forced to marry him two decades ago at the age of 17 - as extremely satisfied with the arrangement.

Sitting next to him, she nodded her agreement.
Some communities have begun to reject the practice, but they have replaced it with a new tradition that is almost as disturbing.

In one village, just a few miles from the place where Nelson Mandela was born, we were invited to attend a special service at the church.
The tiny building was crowded with young girls who were invited to approach the altar to be presented with certificates of their virginity.

The local traditional healer physically inspects all unmarried females above the age of 12 every month.
"This is a good way to ensure they are safe and pure," the healer, Nongenile Nyoka, said.

The virginity testing is supported by the local council which sees it as a step forward in the campaign against forced marriage.

Source: sky.com

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