‘My hell as a child bride’

Teenager describes forced marriage to 61-year-old Port Elizabeth man

The accused hide their faces from the media in the courtroom.
The accused hide their faces from the media in the courtroom.
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Forced into a life of servitude after allegedly being sold off to a man old enough to be her grandfather, a young victim of human trafficking told in heart-breaking detail in the Port Elizabeth High Court how she was forced into a marriage riddled with rape and abuse.

The girl, now 15, was just 13 when she was allegedly sold to the “short, ugly” Port Elizabeth man in his sixties.

As she spoke candidly about the horrors she had endured, it became clear from her facial expressions that reliving the ordeal through her testimony was taking an enormous emotional toll on her.

The teenager, who is slightly mentally disabled, told the court that her mother had died when she was just 10 and she and four of her siblings had been sent to live with her uncle (in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal) – the man accused of arranging lobola negotiations so she could be sold into marriage.

During her testimony, the girl – assisted by an intermediary while giving evidence in a separate room with audio-visual equipment – often clenched her hands together or rested her head on her hands.

Before the trial got under way, the court ruled that her testimony would be in-camera – meaning she would not have to face the two men and a woman who had allegedly traded her into a life of hell.

Describing what it had been like moving in with her uncle at the age of 10, the girl said: “It was not right living there.

“When I wanted to play with my friends, my uncle wouldn’t allow me to and, if I came home late, he would beat me and sometimes I would not get into the house because I was afraid he would beat me.

“If I did not sleep in the house because I was afraid he would beat me, I would sleep in the [outside] toilet.”

The girl, who has the mental capacity of a nine-year-old and cannot be named, said she had stopped going to school while in grade 4 because of the alleged beatings.

“I was afraid to go into the house and my school uniform was in the bedroom of my uncle,” she said.

Her uncle, along with a Greenbushes man, 61, and the man’s sister, 63, face two charges of human trafficking.

The Greenbushes man, the girl’s purported “husband”, also faces two charges of rape.

None of the accused can be named to protect the girl’s identity.

It is alleged that the girl’s uncle had entered into lobola negotiations with the Greenbushes man while she was staying with the woman accused’s daughter in Bizana.

The “husband” allegedly paid R30,000 for the girl.

The uncle has pleaded guilty to a charge of human trafficking concluding (in) a forced marriage with the purpose of sexual exploitation.

He has pleaded not guilty to a separate charge of trafficking of persons, which is different in context.

The “husband” and his sister have pleaded not guilty.

About an hour into her testimony, the teenager, who speaks in a soft voice and looks childlike, showed signs of extreme exhaustion, prompting judge Glen Goosen to adjourn the matter for 30 minutes to give her a break.

Before the brief adjournment, the girl testified that she had been promised a better life by the 63-year-old woman, whom she had met at a church in Stanger.

At the beginning of 2013, when the girl was at school in Bizana, the woman’s daughter had asked her if she wanted to be married.

They had been collecting wood in a nearby field at the time.

“When we went back home, she then called this man back and told him that I agreed,” the girl said.

Asked by state prosecutor Zelda Swanepoel if she knew what this meant, the girl responded that she had thought it meant that, if a person agreed to take her, “at the end of the day I would not be using a fire on the ground to cook food, I would be using a stove to cook”.

The girl said that following that discussion, the man called and asked for pictures of her.

While she could not recall specific dates, the girl said it was shortly after this that she was instructed to meet a man at a nearby taxi rank.

“I waited a while and then this man came to me ... he was a short man, also ugly in the face ... if I think well, he must have been 62,” she said.

It was after this initial meeting that the young girl was told by the woman accused’s daughter in Bizana that she would no longer be attending school and was now a bride.

“[She] told me that she would start teaching me the practices and principles of being a married woman.

“I did not know why I had to do this,” she said.

After that, the 63-year-old woman accompanied the girl by taxi to Durban, before she was put on another taxi and sent to Njoli Square in Kwazakhele, Port Elizabeth, where she was met by her “husband”.

It was the same man she had met in Bizana.

He then took her to his Greenbushes home, the girl said.

“When we got out the car, he wanted to kiss me but I refused,” she said.

After entering the house, the girl said, she told the man she was tired and went to the room where she undressed and got into bed to sleep.

“[He] came into the room [shortly afterwards] and took off his clothes and got into bed.

“He lay on top of me and wanted to have sex with me, but I refused. He then strangled me,” she said.

According to the teenager, the man told her he had placed his hand around her neck so that the people living in the shack in the backyard would not hear her crying.

“I cried because it was painful,” she said.

While living with the man, she had to cook and clean up after him and was not permitted to leave the house.

The girl said that on one day, she could not remember the date, a young woman had entered the house while she was sitting watching TV with the man on the bed.

The 20-year-old woman was introduced to her as the man’s daughter.

The daughter asked who the girl was and the man responded that she was the 20year-old’s “young mother”.

The girl alleged that from October 2016 to December that year the man repeatedly raped her and threatened her with violence if she refused to have sex.

The case continues.

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