Study may reveal extent of statutory rape

Mzanzi Magic’s recent “Our Perfect Wedding” saga thrust statutory rape into the national headlines but just how many cases of statutory rape are reported each year in South Africa is anyone’s guess.

15-year-old Nthabiseng van Rooyen* had been seeing a taxi driver twice her age before she fell pregnant by the man. Now, she says, he acts like the two never met. (File photo)

15-year-old Nthabiseng van Rooyen* had been seeing a taxi driver twice her age before she fell pregnant by the man. Now, she says, he acts like the two never met. (File photo)

A recent episode of Mzanzi Magic’s popular “Our Perfect Wedding” prompted a complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) after it featured a bride and groom who met when she was just 14 years old and he was a taxi driver twice her age. When interviewed on the show, the groom boasted about sleeping with up to four young school girls a day.

Following numerous public apologies by the show as well as meetings with complaints, the BCCSA has dismissed the complaint. “Our Perfect Wedding” may be off the hook, but the show’s controversial episode is a reminder that for girls like 15-year-old Nthabiseng van Rooyen*, life imitates art.

No one knows extent of the problem

From the Free State, Van Rooyen is one of the about 72,000 teenagers who give birth each year in South Africa, according to the Health Systems Trust latest District Health Barometer.

Van Rooyen’s story is eerily familiar.

“I was dating this 30-year-old taxi driver for some time,” Van Rooyen told OurHealth. “I guess I only dated him because he was giving me money.”

In South Africa, the legal age of consent is 16 years old, according to Lisa Vetten, a research associate with the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research.

While the law takes care to try to avoid criminalising consensual sex between consenting minors who are within two years in age of each other, the law is clear that cases like Van Rooyen’s amount to statutory rape. However Vetten added that these cases can be hard to prosecute and young girls may not want to incriminate men they think they love.

“What also makes these cases potentially difficult is that they happen at an age when children and parents are in conflict with each other,” Vetten said.

“Having an older boyfriend gives you status and access to particular things,” she added. “It makes you think you’re an adult and if it annoys your parents, you may think that is a wonderful side effect”

“At that age, you don’t have that much life experience it’s very easy to think you’re in love,” Vetten added.

Anyone with knowledge of a statutory rape must report it

Although Van Rooyen has alleged the man also raped her, the family has yet to lay charges although the law requires anyone with knowledge of a statutory rape to report the crime.

“He took advantage of me while I was drunk and I found myself naked in the blankets the next morning,” Van Rooyen added. “I put on my clothes and went home, but after a few weeks I felt so sick and even missed my period.”

“Now that I am pregnant he is avoiding me like we never even knew each other,” she said.

If successfully prosecuted, the father of Van Rooyen’s unborn baby would face a minimum sentence.

According to Vetten, no one knows how many cases of statutory rape are reported and how many perpetrators are convicted annually. Vetten is currently part of a study that is reviewing 2012 data to produce a snapshot of statutory rape figures. The study’s results are expected to be released in 2016.

In the meantime, Van Rooyen and her family are trying to cope with another mouth to feed.

“My mother doesn’t work and…we live on our grant money and my grandmother’s pension money and still, it’s not enough for all of us,” said the teen. “To top it off now, I am going to have a baby.” – Health-e News.

* Name withheld to protect the identity of the child

An edited version of this story also appeared on Health24.com

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