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Help for women in fraudulent marriages

- Wits University

The Law Clinic calls on women trapped in fraudulent marriages to come forward as it prepares legal action against the state.

The Wits Law Clinic, which represents indigent members of the public, has experienced an increase in the number of victims whose lives have been wrecked by fraudulent marriages. The victims, who have been married to strangers without their knowledge, tell stories of violation, despair and anger at the destruction of their lives, which is heightened by the state’s lack of response to their plight.

The victims have accused the Department of Home of failure to protect them and prolonging their suffering by failing to expunge the marriages despite years of engagements by the victims.

The Wits Law Clinic, which has handled numerous cases of this nature, particularly in the early 2000s, is in the process of instituting legal proceedings against the Department and calls upon victims to come forward in preparation for the class action lawsuit. The Clinic is currently working with women who have been dealt an injustice by inefficiency at the Department of Home Affairs.

“It is a tragedy that the state is failing in its mandate to protect and uphold the rule of law in the country. Law abiding citizens are held hostage – firstly by criminals and then victimised by inefficient administrators. We are calling on women and men who have been affected by fraudulent marriages to contact us as we endeavour to get relief,” says Professor Philippa Kruger, from the Family, Gender and Child Unit at the Law Clinic.

While the costs endured by the victims are unquantifiable, Kruger notes that some of the problems faced by the victims include:

  • Many of the children born to mothers trapped in fraudulent marriages do not have birth certificates. These children are unable to obtain identity documents (IDs) later in life;
  • The alleged illegal spouses have ruined the credit ratings of the women and subsequently lost employment opportunities;
  • The women have been unable to marry their chosen partners and have suffered scorn and indignity in their communities;
  • Some of the women who needed to apply for new, valid IDs had their applications rejected; and
  • Certain women have been unable to access grants that are lawfully entitled to them.

Drawing the link between democracy and the importance of responsive state institutions, Advocate Erin-Diane Richards, who is working with the Clinic says “state departments have constitutional obligations to carry out their functions, not only with transparency and accountability but importantly with efficiency”.

“We need to start seeing a decrease in the current levels of civic apathy towards inaction in the public service, where it's found to exist. Citizens must demand accountability from those that they have elected because the reality is that democracy cannot function properly in the face of civic apathy,” says Richards.

“While it is true that democracy requires the state to fulfil its obligations. The flip side of that coin is that citizens have an equal duty to democracy to enforce government action if and where it's found to be lacking.”

Victims across the country can email or call (011) 717 8562. The Family, Gender and Child Unit located at the Wits Law Clinic, Wits Braamfontein Campus is open to victims of fraudulent marriages on Monday from 08:00 to 12:00.