from MARCUS MUSHONGA in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE, (CAJ News) – THE death of a 14-year-old girl while giving birth in eastern Zimbabwe has brought to the fore the severity of child marriages in the Southern African country.
It is an indictment of authorities for their failure to enforce laws adopted to end the scourge.
Apparent moves by the deceased’s family to replace their so-called in-laws with a younger daughter (aged nine) of theirs to replace the late has further sparked outrage to the gut-wrenching case that has erupted at an apostolic church in Marange, Manicaland province, bordering Mozambique.
Child marriages are rife especially among indigenous apostolic-cum-evangelical churches mixing Christian beliefs with traditional cultures.
These illegal marriages have spiked during the coronavirus crisis that has forced thousands of girls out of school in Zimbabwe and wiped families’ sources of income.
The girl has been identified as Memory Machaya. The baby is said to be alive.
Memory had reportedly been forced out of school and into marriage at the age 13.
Her “husband” has been identified as Evans Momberume, whose age was not given.
The younger girl has been offered through a practice referred to in the local Shona as “chigara mapfihwa”, practice whereby a deceased woman’s sister moves in with the widower as a replacement for the wife.
Human rights groups are demanding justice not only for Memory but for all child brides in Zimbabwe.
An online petition calling for justice for Memory had received more than 36 500 signatures at the time of going to press.
“Forcing any girl into marriage causes her untold suffering and long-lasting harm,” Dewa Mavhinga, Human Rights Watch (HRW) director for Southern Africa, said.
He denounced that girls were often sexually abused, beaten by their husbands and in-laws, confined in their homes, forced into pregnancy and labor, exposed to serious reproductive health risk including risk of death.
“I spoke to one of Memory’s distraught relatives, who said the family is under pressure from the church not to talk about the case. The family is demanding justice for Memory,” Mavhinga revealed.
Violations and child marriages persist despite a landmark 2016 Constitutional Court decision declaring child marriages unconstitutional and setting 18 as the minimum marriage age for girls and boys, without exceptions.
Yet, a member of an apostolic church is quoted as saying, “As soon as a girl reaches puberty, any man in the church can claim her for his wife.”
Mavhinga condemned authorities’ inaction.
“The future of millions of girls depends on Zimbabwe’s government ensuring the ban on child marriages is fully enforced,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission is investigating the case and other reports of sexual violations against children, including rape, in the context of child marriages.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is investigating.
“More information will be released soon,” Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, national police spokesperson, assured.
World Vision has reported Zimbabwe is experiencing an escalation of teenage pregnancies and early marriages following school closures to curb the coronavirus spread (COVID-19).
These have widely been reported in the rural communities and marginalised populations.
The government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, amid the crisis, gazetted the Education Amendment Act asserting that no pupil shall be excluded from school on the basis of pregnancy.
– CAJ News