Child marriage by 15
Child marriage by 18
Other key stats
|Are there Girls Not Brides members?||14|
|Does this country have a national strategy or plan?||No|
|Is there a Girls Not Brides National Partnership or coalition?||No|
|Age of marriage without consent or exceptions taken into account||No minimum legal age of marriage (all exceptions taken into account)|
What's the prevalence rate?
The most recent available data from 2003 shows that 4% of girls in South Africa are married before the age of 18 and 1% of both girls and boys are married before their 15th birthday.
More recently, according to a 2016 Community Survey released by Statistics South Africa more than 91,000 girls in South Africa between the ages of 12 and 17 were married – in either customary or civil marriages – or divorced, separated, widowed or living with a partner.
Rates may be higher as customary marriages are rarely officially registered.
What drives child marriage in South Africa?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys.
There is limited information on child marriage in South Africa, but evidence suggest that it may be driven by:
Harmful traditional practices: In recent years the practice of ukuthwala has been invoked to justify the abduction of girls as young as 12 to be married off to older men. Although it is prohibited, it still reportedly occurs in Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. In many cases, some money or gifts are given to parents in a distortion of traditional ilobolo (dowry) practices.
What international, regional and national commitments has South Africa made?
South Africa has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2019 High Level Political Forum, the government of South Africa reported progress on this target and recognised that the exceptions for marriage under the age of 18 was one of the shortcomings that remain in the legal framework.
South Africa co-sponsor the 2019 Human Rights Council resolution on the consequences of child marriage. South Africa signed a joint statement at the 2014 Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage. South Africa also co-sponsored the 2018 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage.
South Africa ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1995, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
During its 2016 review, the UN Child Rights Committee expressed deep concerns about the persistence of child marriage, virginity testing and ukuthwala. It also raised concerns that the Children’s Act of 2005 sets the minimum age of marriage at 12 for girls, and that the Marriage Act of 1961 and the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998, set different conditions for marriages of girls under the age of 18. The Committee urged the South African government to harmonise legislation in order to ensure the minimum age of marriage is 18 for both girls and boys.
During its 2017 Universal Periodic Review, South Africa agreed to review recommendations to harmonize legislation to ensure that the minimum age for marriage is established at 18 years for both boys and girls and develop specific measures to educate society on customary practices leading to forced and child marriage.
In 2000 South Africa ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2004 South Africa ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
South Africa is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
South Africa is a pathfinder country for the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
What is the government doing to address child marriage?
In 2019, the government of South Africa reported that they are developing a Draft Prohibition of Forced Marriages and Child Marriages Bill, which will provide greater protection from these harmful practices.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
Under the Children’s Act 2005 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years for girls and boys.
However inconsistencies and loopholes exist throughout the legislation. The Marriage Act allows girls to be married at the age of 15 with parental consent but maintains the minimum age of 18 for boys. The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act further allows minors to enter into customary marriages with parental consent, without specifying a minimum age limit for boys or girls.
In 2015 the President, Jacob Zuma, promulgated the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill that prohibits non-consensual ukuthwala and classifies it as a trafficking offence.
We have 14 members in South Africa
Content featuring South Africa
A Guide to Using the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage
A user-friendly Guide to using the SADC Model Law.
Solutions brief: entertainment-education to address child marriage
In this brief, we look at entertainment-education as a strategy to end child marriage and explain what it is, how it is being used and what we know about its…
Entertainment-Education and child marriage: a scoping study for Girls Not Brides
This report looks at the opportunities and challenges of entertainment-education as a way to address child marriage.
Civil Society Accountability Principles and Practice - South Africa Toolkit
This toolkit explores what accountability means for civil society organisations in a South African context.
- African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, [website], 2018, https://www.achpr.org/legalinstruments/detail?id=46 (accessed January 2020).
- African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, [website], 2018, https://au.int/en/treaties/protocol-african-charter-human-and-peoples-rights-rights-women-africa (accessed January 2020).
- Children’s Act 38 of 2005, [website], https://www.justice.gov.za/legislation/acts/2005-038%20childrensact.pdf (accessed January 2020).
- National Department of Health - NDoH, Statistics South Africa - Stats SA, South African Medical Research Council - SAMRC, and ICF. 2019. South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016, https://dhsprogram.com/publications/publication-FR337-DHS-Final-Reports.cfm(accessed September 2020).
- Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, South Africa, [website], https://www.end-violence.org/impact/countries/south-africa (accessed January 2020).
- Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review - South Africa, 2017, p. 22-23, https://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/36/16 (accessed January 2020).
- Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern African, [website], 2014, https://www.youngpeopletoday.org/esa-commitment/ (accessed January 2020).
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, http://fngeneve.um.dk/en/aboutus/statements/newsdisplaypage/?newsid=6371ad93-8fb0-4c35-b186-820fa996d379 (accessed January 2020).
- Mwambene, L., Recent legal responses to child marriage in Southern Africa: The case of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Malawi, African Human Rights Law Journal, [website], 2019, http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1996-20962018000200006&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en#back_fn42 (accessed January 2020).
- South Africa, 2019 South Africa Voluntary National Review, 2019, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/23402RSA_Voluntary_National_Review_Report___The_Final_24_July_2019.pdf (accessed January 2020).
- The Conversation, Banning child and forced marriages is gaining traction in Africa, [website], 2016, https://theconversation.com/banning-child-and-forced-marriages-is-gaining-traction-in-africa-53507 (accessed January 2020).
- The WORLD Policy Analysis Center, South Africa: A Brief on the Implementation of CEDAW Commitments from Articles 2, 5, 11, 16 and General Recommendation 12, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCEDAW%2fICO%2fZAF%2f40980&Lang=en (accessed January 2020).
- UN Child Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the second periodic report of South Africa, 2016, p.5, p.10, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC/C/ZAF/CO/2&Lang=En (accessed January 2020).
- United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (accessed January 2020).
- United States State Department Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, South Africa, 2018, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/South-Africa-1.pdf (accessed January 2020).
- U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, [website], 2019, https://www.state.gov/where-we-work-pepfar (accessed January 2020).