Journal Note: Hmong ‘Marriage by Capture’ in the United States of America and Ukuthwala in South Africa: Unfolding Discussions

Author Lea Mwambene

ISSN: 2522-3062
Affiliations: University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Source: Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa, The, Volume 53 Issue 3, p. 169 – 193


‘Marriage by capture’ among the Hmong people in the United States of America and ukuthwala in South Africa both take the form of the mock abduction of a young woman for the purpose of a customary marriage. The noteworthy point about these two customary marriage practices is that, although Hmong marriage by capture takes place in the context of a minority community in a liberal state, and ukuthwala occurs in a postcolonial state, courts in these jurisdictions convert these marriage practices to the common law offences of rape, assault, and abduction. This article reflects on the accused-centred approach in the case of People v Moua, in which the court invoked the cultural defence, and the victim-centred approach in Jezile v S, which severed cultural values from the rights of the woman. It questions whether the two communities in question, in their respective liberal and postcolonial settings, influence the attitudes of the courts in cases involving rape, assault, and abduction charges. The main argument proffered is that both approaches may encourage communities to continue marriage abduction practices without bringing them to the attention of investigative organs, with adverse human rights implications for the women and girls affected. The ultimate purpose of this conversation, therefore, is to show how the approaches of the courts to the recognition or non-recognition of these customary practices affect the rights of girls and women who encounter institutions of law that alienate people belonging to minority cultural groups, and often perpetuate injustice.