Marriages from hell

Marriages from hell

Rose Moremoholo

MASERU

WHEN Bokang Ralentsoe’s case was finally heard in the magistrate’s court last week, it was expected that the man who had abducted her and had admitted as much to the court would be sent to jail.

The suspect, 32-year-old Ramasike Metsing, also faced a charge of malicious damage to property after he smashed her cell phone when he abducted her. Pleading guilty to all charges, Metsing told the court he had abducted Ralentsoe because he wanted to marry her.

The very least the court would do, so thought her relatives, prosecutors and the police, was that Magistrate Peter Murenzi would either fine him or give him a suspended sentence. They were wrong.

The magistrate acquitted Metsing on grounds that Ralentsoe was not a child but a 21-year-old woman when Metsing promised to find her a job and later abducted her with intention to marry her without her consent.

The magistrate dismissed the prosecution’s case of abduction solely on grounds that Ralentsoe was 21 years old when Metsing abducted her.

The offences happened in November 2014.

Metsing was only ordered to pay Ralentsoe M1 000 as compensation for her damaged cell phone.

According to the prosecution Metsing was a vendor at the Sefika Bus Stop in Maseru while Ralentsoe looking for a job. The court heard that Metsing called Ralentsoe and told her that he could find someone who could give her a job and said they could meet the prospective employer together.

They took a car to Mazenod, Ha-’Mantšebo and Koro-koro in search of the person Metsing said he could offer Ralentsoe a job. It is said along the way Ralentsoe’s phone rang and when she tried to answer it Metsing grabbed it and smashed it.

Instead of taking her to meet the employer Metsing took her to his sister’s home where, upon arrival, he said he had abducted her with intention to marry (chobeliso in Sesotho). The court heard that the sister rejected the idea of abducting the woman and also told Metsing that he had not even bought clothes for a newly married as is expected in Sesotho custom. The court heard Metsing wanted to have sex with Ralentsoe but she refused.

In the morning, the sister took Ralentsoe to Metsing’s aunt in Mazenod. The aunt advised her to report the matter to the police, which she did. Metsing told the court that all these things were correct as told by the prosecution. Ralentsoe’s case is just one of many cases of women who are abducted and married against their will.

Magistrate Murenzi’s judgement only illustrates how women abducted for marriage struggle to get justice. In a surreal way it also brings to fore that courts’ attitude towards victims of chobeliso, a common cultural practise that has stood the test of time, modern legislation and a huge shift in culture.

Today chobeliso as a way of marriage is generally frowned upon but remains rampant especially in rural Lesotho. Under the practise a man can abduct a woman he wants to marry.

One such woman is ’Mamohato Moshoeshoe of Qacha’s Nek town who said she was born and grew up in Matatiele in South Africa but married in Lesotho. Moshoeshoe says she was attending school in Matatiele when one day after school she went with some girls to collect firewood and on the way they met Lesotho men.

She was in love with one of the men, Lepoqo, who upon sight told her that he had come to take her to his home because he wanted to marry her. Moshoeshoe says she tried to plead with him that he should allow her to complete school but Lepoqo did not listen and instructed the men he was with to drag her away.

Moshoeshoe says it was in 2005 and she was only 17 years old. On that night they arrived at Lepoqo’s home where she was welcomed and given a bed to sleep for the night. In the morning she was asked if she was in love with Lepoqo and when she said yes, a man was sent to her home to report to her parents that she had been abducted for marriage.

“I wept but nobody seemed to care. I wanted to tell them that I was not ready for marriage but it seemed nobody wanted to hear me,” she says. However, she says she accepted that she had been married and “up to this day I love my husband and she loves me too”. Moshoeshoe however experienced what could be viewed as the nicer version of chobeliso. That’s because in its extreme type chobeliso  doesn’t involve love or even slight acquaintance. A girl does not need to know the man for her to be abducted for marriage. In most cases the girl is raped, tortured and beaten as she is being dragged to her abductor’s home. Victims tell harrowing stories of how they were frogmarched to a strangers’ home for marriage. When they tried to resist they were raped and brutally beaten, all in the name of a culture.

There are different opinions of the legality and or criminality of abducting a woman for marriage.

Some view it just as morally not good while others see it as a criminal offence.

According to the Laws of Lerotholi, the abducted girl’s parents are entitled to claim compensation of six cattle from the abductor’s parents before they can agree on lobola or the bride’s price, if after all there will be any marriage to talk about.

Some churches punish abductors and his parents by denying them certain religious entitlements like partaking in the Holy Communion.

A local defence lawyer, Advocate Christopher Lephuthing, says crimes committed during abduction of a girl with intention to marry her are seldom prosecuted in the courts because in most cases the police mediate between the families to forgive each other.

Lephuthing says when the girl’s family report abduction and crimes associated with it, the police arrests the abductor but instead of taking the case to the prosecutor they arrange for talks between the two families which ends with the girl’s parents agreeing to go for a compensation of six cattle.

“We are Basotho and our police understand our customs and they do their utmost to ensure that the two families build peace and settle out of court,” Lephuthing says.

“This answers why we do not have cases of crimes committed during abduction or abduction cases themselves. If these cases were treated like any other case, they would be as many as sexual offences and assault cases,” he says.

The National Coordinator for End Child Marriages campaign in the Ministry of Social Development, Thabo Lebasa, says cases of abduction are seldom reported to the police “because of our cultural beliefs”.

“In most cases they are reported only when relations have soured between the two families or between this marrying boy and girl,” Lebasa says.

He says according to a recent Demographic Health Survey, Lesotho has 19 percent of child marriages and 15 percent of teenage mothers who are married.

In his dissertation titled “A Christian Analytic Approach of Marriage Through Abduction Among the Basotho people of Lesotho: a challenge for pastoral care ministry”, a Christian scholar Joseph Molapo says he is personally hurt when a girl is abducted.

“As a young boy it was always painful for me to see Basotho girls being abducted by more than one man, i.e. those who accompany the one who had marked a girl for marriage,” Molapo says.

“I could hear a piercing cry of a girl who was being captured when she was trying to resist the abduction.”

And a young girl will always try to free herself. She could be beaten for persistently resisting the abductors.

When this drama takes place, a Mosotho girl would definitely know that she is being forced to enter into a marriage, sometimes with somebody she does not even know.

Molapo says the abductors usually watch a young girl’s movements, and manage to find a good opportunity of capturing her without any hindrance.

These abductions normally occur in the afternoon, or at night so as to avoid any interruption by village people or travellers who pass by. This is where rape either by a prospective husband, or his mates, usually takes place.

He says this system of entering into a marriage does not have any premeditated intention on the side of the young girl.

In most cases it puts the girl in an awkward position. She has to face abuses such as rape, violence, torture, insults, and sometimes death, caused by the abductors.

Abductors, on the other hand, run the risk of being killed by those who may come to rescue the young girl.

Most women end up giving in to their abductor’s demands because going back home is considered uncultured.

The few who dare return to their homes live with the stigma of having rejected marriage.

The abduction of women and girls has always been rampant in Lesotho from time immemorial.

Chobeliso  is the subject of a local film titled “Khetho e aka” (My choice) which was played by the Sesotho Media and Development recently.

The film shows the ills of forced marriage by abduction and discusses why the practice is unlawful and tramples on women’s basic rights.

During the discussion after the film, police Senior Inspector ’Mamolefe Mphofe of Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) said there was never a time that abduction was right, not even in the cultural sense, because someone who was found to have abducted another person’s child had to pay a fine of six cows to the girls family.

“So, if the boy’s parents had to pay six cows, it simply shows how malicious this behaviour is,” Mphofe said.

“In most cases girls who are abducted get raped and assaulted,” she said.

Last year the Lesotho MPs had a discussion on how to fight abduction since it is one of the problems that still give rise to the HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country.

The MP for Rothe, ’Manthabiseng Phohleli who was one of the delegated women in parliament to represent Lesotho to the SADC Parliamentary Forum’s Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (RWPC) said abduction was a concern in all African countries.

Phohleli said as the SADC women in parliament they discussed the best way to fight and eliminate abduction in their countries.

“The biggest problem when under age children get abducted is that they lose a bright future they dreamt of because they leave school to be fully financially dependent on their husbands,” Phohleli said.

Phohleli said the laws should be reevaluated and rechecked because “laws such as the Customary Law are far behind and out dated for this era and this very law stands in the way of the Constitution to function as it should”.

“For instance, the Lesotho Children’s Protection and Welfare Act, 2011, defines a child as below the age of 18, and prohibits child marriage,” she said, adding:“But the MarriageAct,1974’ which is still in full function in courts allows girls of 16 and boys of 18 to marry or be married. There is no minimum age for customary marriages.”

Women and Law in the Southern Africa (WILSA) is on set to fight abduction as a human trafficking offence.

“Human trafficking has become a serious problem in African countries and it is real,” said Mokheseng Buti, gender officer at WILSA.

Buti said many times girls are sold to a man to get married to them because “sometimes the man is afraid to propose to the girl he wants to marryand then pays abductors to abduct her for marriage”.

“The abductors are paid for their job. This qualifies as human trafficking,” Buti said.

Sentences for human trafficking range from a fine of M2 million, 15 or 25years in prison depending on the role the convicted person played in the abduction.

“This shows the seriousness of human trafficking in any manner whatsoever it presents its self,” Buti said.

 

 

Ernestina Maluke

 

Domicile at Ha Mpeli – Matsoku – Leribe (highlands). She is a victim of abduction with intent to marry. She relates her story as follows: “I was attending school at Pitseng (100 kilometers away from home). One day a young man I knew from the neighbouring village arrived at school. He requested me from the teachers under pretence that my parents had sent him to fetch me, because I was urgently wanted at home. The school authorities released me and together we went home. On the way he broke the news to me that he was lying to the school authorities. He had requested me because he intended to make me his wife, and so he is abducting me. I remained calm and did not show any sign of shock and resistance. It was still daytime and he decided to take me to his uncle’s home nearby for a while, to wait for the nightfall. After several hours being there, I requested to go to a pit toilet a distance from the house. He asked two young girls to accompany me. University of Pretoria etd – Molapo, J M (2004) 90 I got the chance to escape and ran home. I related the whole story to my mother who appeared to be surprised and angry with all that the young man had done. Late in the evening my mother decided to visit one of the nearby houses in the village. Immediately after her departure, a woman who is a neighbour arrived at our house looking for my mother. She opened a conversation with me as she went out with me. I was talking with her, two men suddenly appeared and apprehended me and dragged me down towards the river. I tried to resist and fight but I was whipped and tortured badly. I had no chance of escaping. One of them was the same young man who fetched me from school. I was kept in the riverbanks up until late when they pushed me to his home. This was how I got married to a man who deceived me and destroyed my future career. We are both members of the Roman Catholic Church. His parents arranged with the priest to give us penance so that our marriage could be blessed, and our first born baby be baptized. The priest asked me to clean the Church as my penance and my husband had to work in the parish fields the whole day. It was not so easy for me to accept him as my husband, but time and children eventually made a difference. I suspect that my mother together with the lady, who came to look for her, had contributed to my abduction. I had high hopes and expectations in my career, but all that came to nothing and I am now an ordinary housewife. I do not wish my daughters to be married that way, I want them to be educated and have a bright future, and to marry men of their own choice”.

 

Mankei C. Ntlohi

 

Domicile at Mathokoane, Leribe (lowlands). She is a victim of abduction with intent to marry. She narrates her story as follows: “We were three girls working at Mathokoane shop. One day two men arrived at the shop, and we knew one of them, while the other was a stranger. The one we knew was married already. As they entered the shop the one we knew pointed at me as he spoke to a stranger with authority and said, ‘I choose this one to be your wife’. He looked at me and never uttered a word, and they left the shop. On the 31st December 1979 I was sent to a certain household in our village. I met the man who pointed me out at the shop, and chose me as a potential wife for the stranger. He persuaded me to go via his house because one of my girl friends wanted to see me. In good faith I agreed because I knew him as a member of our village community. As I entered his house he closed the door. Suddenly two men apprehended me and tied my feet and hands and threw me on the bed. They pushed University of Pretoria etd – Molapo, J M (2004) 88 piece of cloth into my mouth to stop me from screaming. It was around 15:00 when this happened, and I was untied at 23:00. Three more men arrived to make their number to six and they all escorted me to a nearby village, where the silent man came from. I was earmarked and abducted to be a wife of the silent stranger. On arrival at his home, I was pushed behind the door and the man who persuaded me to go via his house gave strict orders that the mother and sisters of the silent stranger should watch me well so that I could not escape. The following day the family dressed me in a traditional attire to be the daughter in law of the silent man’s family. The koae sheep was slaughtered and I become the wife of the silent man whom I never heard a word coming from his mouth asking me if I would marry him. When the consummation of marriage came I was tortured and abused by a silent man who was literally raping me. He never-ever tried to utter a word and ask me if we can have sex. We had to fight before he could manage to overpower me and sleep with me. I was hurt because that was pure rape, which made me feel discredited, abused and oppressed. I had to suffer this humiliation for a month until I gave up. I could not even report this abuse, because Basotho girls are taught by the elderly women, that to refuse to consummate marriage is a disgrace to one’s self and her family. I gradually developed a positive attitude to love him. And we had our first born child whose birth made me accept him as my husband. We lived together for 23 years as husband and wife, and he has never uttered these words to me ‘I love you’ I had to develop a positive attitude of accepting him as my husband. He is a responsible man who takes care of his family. I always kneel and pray to ask God to protect my children (girls) not to be abducted when they get married”.

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