Sects move on child mar­riages long over­due

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/worldwide - Yoliswa Dube Se­nior Fea­tures Re­porter “I was mar­ried young my­self and have al­ways taken what my hus­band says as law. I got mar­ried not be­cause I wanted to or be­cause I was ready, a de­ci­sion was made on my be­half and I couldn’t refuse my par­ents their wish

THE man on the street could not fathom how a 15-yearold girl would have two chil­dren and be ex­pect­ing a third.

Next to her would be a man four times her age — her hus­band, who through a dream was shown by the “holy spirit” that that young girl was “the one”.

But for fear of go­ing against the “holy vi­sion” and sup­posed prophetic word, the girl’s fam­ily of­fered their daugh­ter as a wife to the madz­ibaba, a mem­ber of an apos­tolic sect.

This has gone on for years with young girls be­ing mar­ried off at a ten­der age un­der the guise of church be­liefs.

They were not al­lowed to reach their full po­ten­tial and their hopes and as­pi­ra­tions were usurped from be­fore their very eyes.

Scores of women and girls from apos­tolic sects have over the years suf­fered as a re­sult of op­pres­sive church be­liefs.

“I was mar­ried young my­self and have al­ways taken what my hus­band says as law. I got mar­ried not be­cause I wanted to or be­cause I was ready, a de­ci­sion was made on my be­half and I couldn’t refuse my par­ents their wishes. But now I’m happy that the church it­self is now fight­ing to end child mar­riages. My daugh­ters stand a bet­ter chance than I did. Even if my hus­band doesn’t lis­ten to me, at least the church is on my side,” said Ms Ellen Sibanda, a mem­ber of an apos­tolic sect in Bu­l­awayo who got mar­ried when she was 16.

Pres­i­dent of the Apos­tolic Chris­tian Coun­cil of Zim­babwe (ACCZ), Arch­bishop Jo­hannes Ndanga, re­cently said the or­gan­i­sa­tion will not pro­tect any­one found guilty of pro­mot­ing or en­gag­ing in child mar­riages us­ing church be­liefs — much to the re­prieve of many.

“Those who want to have vi­sions or dreams of which woman they should marry should dream of sin­gle moth­ers, wi­d­ows and not young girls. Why do they only dream of young girls? Why do they never dream of older, wid­owed women and or sin­gle moth­ers?” asked Arch­bishop Ndanga.

He said there are hun­dreds of women out there who want to be mar­ried and men should tar­get them, in­stead of young girls.

Arch­bishop Ndanga said the church was be­hind pro­posed amend­ments to the Mar­riage Act that will make it il­le­gal to marry a per­son be­low the age of 18.

He said the church was out to dis­pel the myth that apos­tolic sects preyed on chil­dren for sex.

“We’re say­ing a young girl is not yet ripe for mar­riage and so shouldn’t have her life ru­ined by a self­ish man who claims to have had a di­vine vi­sion that he should marry her. Ac­cord­ing to Gen­e­sis 2 verse 18, God says it’s not proper for a man to live alone adding ‘I will find a helper who is suit­able for thee’.”

The word “suit­able”, Arch­bishop Ndanga said, should be noted be­cause sleep­ing with a young girl is dam­ag­ing her and it is “as good as eat­ing a raw mango.”

Apos­tolic sects are ac­cused of be­ing breed­ing grounds for child mo­lesters with scores of chil­dren suf­fer­ing in si­lence. But the ACCZ pres­i­dent says enough is enough.

“We fully sup­port the judg­ment that was set by the ju­di­ciary be­cause it’s in full sup­port of the girl child’s rights. It em­pow­ers the sys­tem to deal with such peo­ple and we won’t cover up for any­one caught in this act. We won’t al­low any­one to use or hide un­der church be­liefs. We’ll as­sist in ev­ery way to en­sure the law brings per­verts who hide be­hind reli­gion, to book. We’re ac­tu­ally help­ing by hand­ing over such peo­ple to the po­lice,” said Arch­bishop Ndanga.

To curb child mar­riages, the ACCZ has opened Gen­der and Child Care Unit desks through­out the coun­try which look out for such mat­ters, help­ing in ap­pre­hend­ing any­one found guilty.

Although more still has to be done to end child mar­riages and bring per­pe­tra­tors of sex­ual abuse to book, the move by the church is a step in the right di­rec­tion.

Aside from pro­mot­ing child mar­riages, apos­tolic sects have been no­to­ri­ous for dis­cour­ag­ing mem­bers from im­mu­ni­sa­tion, hos­pi­tal de­liv­ery and seek­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion in gen­eral, rec­om­mend­ing prayer and faith in­stead.

Early this year, a Jo­hane Marange Apos­tolic Sect mem­ber from Gutu in Masvingo prov­ince nearly killed his preg­nant wife when he al­legedly en­larged her birth canal us­ing a home-made knife when she went into labour.

She was forcibly rushed to the clinic by a team of vil­lage health work­ers as her hus­band’s sect does not al­low mem­bers to seek treat­ment at health in­sti­tu­tions.

In Zim­babwe, 610 women out of ev­ery 100 000 die while giv­ing birth, with a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the deaths at­trib­uted to apos­tolic sects that did not be­lieve in hos­pi­tal de­liv­ery.

Arch­bishop Ndanga said the church had changed its stance on hos­pi­tals and en­cour­aged mem­bers to seek med­i­cal at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially when giv­ing birth.

There has been an im­prove­ment at Jo­hane Marange on the chil­dren’s right to health, he said as sect mem­bers are now get­ting their chil­dren vac­ci­nated in hos­pi­tals and clin­ics.

His­tor­i­cally, the Jo­hane Marange sect barred mem­bers from seek­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion com­pletely.

Gov­ern­ment is ac­tively in­volved in the fight against child mar­riages as leg­is­la­tion against mar­riage of girls un­der 18 is cur­rently un­der­way.

Zim­babwe Young Women’s Net­work for Peace Build­ing di­rec­tor Ms Grace Chirenje said the cam­paign by the ACCZ is pro­gres­sive in terms of child mar­riages but vi­o­lates rights to choose a reli­gion and how peo­ple elect to ad­dress their health.

“The cam­paign vi­o­lates peo­ple’s right to choose a reli­gion and how they de­cide to ad­dress their health es­pe­cially when it comes to their chil­dren. There’s a whole de­bate around par­ent­ing and re­li­gious choices on chil­dren,” said Ms. Chirenje.

She said reli­gion has, how­ever, over the years been used as a tool for op­press­ing women and the move by the ACCZ is mostly im­por­tant in curb­ing child mar­riages.

“This will sup­port in the move­ment to end child mar­riages in that those per­pe­tra­tors who found com­fort in reli­gion can now be ap­pre­hended and brought to ac­count which is a most wel­come de­vel­op­ment as reli­gion has since time im­memo­rial been used as a tool for op­press­ing women and chil­dren.”

Ms Chirenje said open con­ver­sa­tions about the causes and ef­fects of sex­ual abuse and child mar­riages were im­por­tant in help­ing end the scourge.

“Im­pos­ing stiffer penal­ties on per­pe­tra­tors will also be use­ful. Pa­tri­archy is the no­tion that men are su­pe­rior to women and un­til this is done away with by a trans­for­ma­tion in at­ti­tude and be­hav­iour, abuse will re­main emi­nent,” she said.

Vice Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa who also over­sees the Min­istry of Jus­tice, Le­gal and Par­lia­men­tary Af­fairs said:

“We’re mak­ing con­certed ef­forts to en­sure that child mar­riages are banned. Our girls should marry when they at­tain the age of 18. That would be sup­ported by laws that we’re cur­rently work­ing on and the process is on­go­ing.”

There are proposals to amend the Crim­i­nal Law (Cod­i­fi­ca­tion and Re­form) Act, such that the age of con­sent be­comes 18 years since sex­ual re­la­tions are usu­ally a pre­cur­sor to mar­riages.

Other amend­ments in­clude the no­ti­fi­ca­tion of heads in ru­ral ar­eas or mag­is­trates in ur­ban ar­eas of the par­ties that want to wed so that they can scru­ti­nise their per­sonal de­tails be­fore the mar­riages have been solem­nised.

Also, proof of age of the party con­cerned should be made avail­able be­fore a mar­riage is solem­nised such that mar­riage of­fi­cers will not solem­nise mar­riages for girls who are be­low 18 years.

Lawyer and Harare West leg­is­la­tor Ms Jessie Ma­jome said the de­ci­sion to draft the amend­ments was born out of the need to en­sure in­clu­siv­ity from all stake­hold­ers ad­vo­cat­ing an end to child mar­riages.

“We’re deeply con­cerned that the prac­tices of child, early and forced mar­riages are wide­spread and con­sti­tute vi­o­la­tions of hu­man rights and pre­vent in­di­vid­u­als from liv­ing their lives from all forms of vi­o­lence that have ad­verse con­se­quences on the en­joy­ment of hu­man rights. By em­bark­ing on this ex­er­cise, we want to en­sure that the prob­lem of child mar­riages is erad­i­cated. Saving our girls from child mar­riages will set women on the path of de­vel­op­ment,” said Ms Ma­jome. – @Yolis­swa

Arch­bishop Jo­hannes Ndanga

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