The story of a 14-year-old girl, who died while giving birth at an apostolic sect shrine in Marange, is a tragic demonstration of the country’s failure to enforce laws prohibiting child marriages.
Memory Machaya was allegedly forced out of school and into marriage at that tender age.
Machaya died on July 15 and was buried secretly by members of the church in Manicaland, reports said. She is not the only victim.
Thousands of girls are married off by their parents across Zimbabwe every year and the practice is common among some apostolic sects.
This is happening despite the fact that the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) outlawed child marriages in 2016.
The top court ruled that no one in Zimbabwe may enter into any marriage, including customary unions, before the age of 18.
ConCourt judges struck down a section of the Marriages Act, which allowed girls to marry at 16 and boys at 18. Zimbabwe has a serious problem of child marriages.
Statistics show that nearly a third of girls in Zimbabwe marry before they reach the age of 18 and 4% before they turn 15, denying them an opportunity to further their education and exposing them to sexual violence.
They are also at risk of serious injury during child birth or even death as was the case with Machaya.
The government has practically done nothing to build from the positives that came with the landmark ConCourt ruling.
There are laws that have to be expunged from the statutes in order to ensure that children are not forced into marriages because such arrangements can never be in their best interests.
Such laws include the Public Health Amendment Act, which sets 18 as the age of consent to medical treatment.
Machaya was allegedly prevented from seeking medical treatment by the sect’s midwives, leading to her death.
Besides reforming the laws, there is also an urgent need to educate members of the apostolic sects about the dangers of marrying-off children.
Offenders also need to be brought to book to demonstrate that the practice is frowned upon.
Police and political leaders, most often appear reluctant to act against the apostolic sects if they break the law, because they make a very formidable voting block, but this cannot be at the expense of children.
The paedophile behind Machaya’s pregnancy and the so-called midwives that handled her at the shrine, need to be brought to justice without any delay.