Lusikisiki - The Minister in the Presidency Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has urged parents to refrain from forcing their children into early marriages.
"Parents should delay children's marital affairs until they are old enough to make their own informed decisions about their lives, free of coercion or force," the minister said.
She was speaking on Monday during a visit to a hostel in Lusikisiki which is used as a place of refuge by young girls who escape child abduction known as "Ukuthwala".
Ukuthwala, which is currently being practiced in some parts of Pondoland in the province, is a cultural practice whereby children as young as 12 years old are abducted and forced into early marriages.
The minister's visit follows an Imbizo held in March, where it was agreed that she would return to further engage on the issue of child abduction.
Addressing the parents in the community, the minister said children rely on adults for extra protection since they cannot protect themselves or make mature and informed decisions.
She said it was important for community leaders and policy makers to educate parents about the risks involved in Ukuthwala.
"It is important for us as policy makers to know if you really understand the risks and benefits of the practice and respect everyone's need to freely decide to undergo the practice.
"Ground work has already been done by the local authority to raise awareness about the issue and we are here as national and provincial governments to build on and support the existing interventions, which should be sustained even after our departure," she said.
Ms Tshabalala-Msimang challenged parents, guardians and extended families, who are directly responsible for the developmental needs of the child to get involved as they have a duty to ensure that the best interests of the child are their basic concern at all times.
"There is no time to start blaming each other, you all have a responsibility towards your children as parenting is a joint effort," she said, adding that the practices form part of violence against women and girls.
The minister further announced that the Presidency has consulted with the Premier's Office in the Eastern Cape, Provincial and National Departments and District and Local Municipalities, to develop a draft action plan that would be discussed further with local residents and traditional authority and fine tuned to address the issued urgently.
The minister encouraged parents to send their children back to school and urged them to delay any sexual or marital affair until they are old enough to make their own informed decision about their lives.