The UN Women’s Civil Society Advisory Group (CSAG) says a commission of inquiry is needed to probe what it calls the “normalisation” of rape and abuse of South African girls
The group called for urgent and systemic action in the wake of reports that more than 2‚000 underage girls in one North West municipality were impregnated‚ mostly by older men.
It urged the South African government to join with the Commission for Gender Equality to convene an urgent commission of inquiry to investigate the systemic causes of mass teenage pregnancy in Ratlou and across South Africa – “and take unprecedented and decisive action to end it”.
According to the UN women’s group‚ it was revealed two weeks ago that more than 2‚000 girls under the age of 18 in the rural Ratlou Local Municipality‚ about 70km outside Mahikeng in North West had been impregnated.
“Most of the pregnant girls are believed to have been in ‘relationships’ with older men‚ known colloquially as ‘blessers’. The remainder report being raped or practising unsafe sex‚” the group said in a statement.
It added that the youngest mother was reported to be only 12. Her baby is six months old.
While CSAG said everyone – the girls’ parents and relatives‚ community leaders as well as the government – was responsible for protecting the girls‚ it noted that the crisis was bigger than Ratlou.
“The bigger issue is power relations between older men and young vulnerable women‚ which in the case of Ratlou has been compounded by poverty‚ customs and tradition that turn a blind eye. Instead of celebrating‚ encouraging or laughing about the practice‚ ‘blessers’ should be condemned out of hand.
“It is an indictment on South Africa as a whole that this issue came to light at the end of Women’s Month‚ when we celebrate and empower women and girls. While the impregnation of under-aged girls is unconstitutional‚ it is contrary to the very tenets of humanity that our defenceless young girls are being preyed upon by adult men‚ seemingly without sanction‚” it said.
UN Women CSAG stated that mechanisms should be put in place to support and empower parents‚ especially single mothers‚ to report the sexual abuse of their children.
It said health workers and school authorities who failed to alert legal and social protection services were failing in their duty while the criminal justice system was failing to bring the perpetrators to book‚ denying the young girls the fundamental right to protection and denying the society justice.
“These horrifying reports show the repeated rape of young girls‚ whether in impoverished areas or on varsity campuses‚ has become normalised. For 2 000 underage girls to show up pregnant indicates a pandemic that is now in the fabric of that community. We need a new normal‚” it said.