Women’s rights activists fret over rising child marriages in Zimbabwe

By Locadia Mavhudzi

Women’s rights activists under the banner of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe have expressed worry over the escalating cases of child marriages which continue to endanger and compromise the future of young girls in Zimbabwe.

The heartbreaking case of a 14-year-old girl who died during childbirth at an Apostolic church in Marange, in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province last month, has evoked women’s rights defenders to go back to the drawing board and draft new advocacy tactics. According to reports, the girl, Memory Machaya, who had been forced out of school and into marriage at age 13, died on July 15 and was secretly buried two hours later by the church.

Dr Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, who is also the African Union Goodwill Ambassador on ending child marriages said the case of Memory Machaya is a micro reflection of a suffering world of women demanding justice.

“We have bottled it all in for too long. The pangs create a knot in your tummy and you struggle to swallow. The scars never heal because every day there are new wounds that fester untreated. We know what needs to be done when violated.

Reports are made, survivors of violence tell their stories a thousand times. Perpetrators are known. Yet nothing happens. No redress, no justice. IMPUNITY.

A girl is raped, life ripped and we start bleeding again. We find a voice and dare not be silenced. We just need justice for all crimes committed before and for this Memory.”

Gumbonzvanda said it’s high time to change the narrative on approaches to end child marriages in Zimbabwe.

“Just because there has been political patronage which created a sense that some people can be above the law, can break the law and commit crimes with impunity, it does not mean that tables cannot turn. Let #JusticeForMemory be the turning point, that rule of law and upholding the constitution is the true essence of quality political leadership.”

An online petition calling for justice for Memory is ongoing has already received over 36,500 signatures.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Chairperson, Evernice Manando said though no arrests have not yet been made, it is high time the rule of law must be upheld and ensure the case will be dealt with entirely.

“We visited the police headquarters and were told not to interfere with investigations. The police issued a statement that they are investigating the girl’s death, but no arrests have been made. However, we continue to monitor the steps towards justice. Let us not retire in advocating for a just society for women and children.

Sakhile Sifelani Ngoma from the Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU) said political and traditional leaders must create safe spaces for women and children if we are to deal with child marriages exhaustively.

“A child does not belong to its biological parents alone. In our culture, a child belongs to the community. Where was the village head when this pregnancy was developing, where was the chief in the area, What about the village health worker? We need a collaborative approach to end child marriages. Community leaders are also answerable for such social evils which continue to happen not only in the apostolic sect but across our communities.”

A leading child rights group Shamwari ye Mwanasikana expressed concern over the lack of decisive action by the authorities to deal with the practice that was rife in the Vapositori sect.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have heard or read reports of a madzibaba who denies members of their churches medical treatment. It is infuriating that the young girl met her untimely death at the hands of a religious leader, a death that could have been avoided had she gotten medical treatment in time.” Said Ekenia Chifamba, the director of Shamwari Yemwanasikana.

In a statement, The Zimbabwe Network of Early Childhood Development Actors (ZINECDA) added their voice to the ongoing public outcries to bring to book the perpetrators.

“As we welcome reports indicating that the police have started investigating circumstances surrounding Memory’s death, it is our humble submission that authorities act without prejudice to eradicate this scourge. As a coalition of civil society organizations advocating for children’s rights, we believe that the practice of child marriages is a violation of children’s rights therefore we call upon Governments to ensure that the legal systems protect and prohibit this practice to safeguard children’s rights and dignity,” reads the statement.

Child marriage is rampant in Zimbabwe, despite a landmark 2016 Constitutional Court decision which declared child marriages unconstitutional and set 18 as the minimum marriage age for girls and boys, without exceptions.

( story support granted by Women in News, wan-ifra.org )

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