Sold into marriage at the age of 13 by her father, Juliet is an example of thousands of women who suffer abuse in the polygamy-tolerant sects of the apostolic church. Her husband was a cross-border truck driver who infected her with HIV and left her wallowing in poverty.
At her family home she is not greeted by her parents because they both died of curable diseases as a result of the church’s ban on hospital visits. With six children in tow, Juliet is on the verge of giving up.
“I do not deserve to survive anymore. In fact I am already dead. I am now HIV positive because of the polygamous marriage I was involved in. I look older than I am and I am uneducated,” she said.
With an ex-husband old enough to be her father who is living somewhere in Malawi, Juliet’s options are limited.
“He rarely came home. I have no source of income to fend for the children, this is why I decided to come back and stay home,” she said.
Juliet is one of many women who have suffered in this way, with most forced to keep silent by their abusive church families. The Union for Development of the Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa is a non-governmental organisation has just initiated an
outreach programme for the members of the apostolic sect. It educates them on the importance of human rights and health issues.
The organisation’s project officer, Camilious Machingura, said women are the most affected by the dictatorial system of the church which does not give them a chance to decide.
“We have discovered from our work that most women are not willing to stay in the polygamous marriages they are in because of what they are experiencing. Most of them tell us that they were forced to get into these marriages when they were very young,” said Machingura.
“The programme is being well received. Penetration into the conservative churches has revealed a willingness to embrace modern methods, especially by the women and youths and in spite of resistance from men.”
One of the most pertinent issues of concern is forced marriages. Girls as young as 13 are married off and their education suffers as a result. This, coupled with polygamy, has placed its members at great risk of contracting HIV and AIDS as the women are not equipped to negotiate protected sex.
Members of the apostolic sect are known for resisting government health programmes such as immunization as they believe that it is unholy to take medicine. Last year there was an international outcry when hundreds of children died from measles because parents were not willing to have their children immunized.
Expecting mothers are also not allowed to deliver their babies in hospitals with specialized care and end up delivering at home where they are at a greater risk of developing complications. According to experts, eight pregnant women die daily while giving birth and apostolic churches contribute significantly to the avoidable deaths.
Tarisai Musango, Gilbert Sango and Grace Kamunhu commended the initiative which has been taken by UDACIZA, and challenged the government to impose stiffer penalties to members of the apostolic sect, especially men who marry underage girls.
Another problem has been the move by Zanu (PF) to turn apostolic church gatherings into venues for political rallies.
“We have politicians here who are using meetings for political mileage, and we want that to cease. The government instead should impose harsh penalties on these leaders of churches who abuse both children and women. Children are dying and yet the government is not making any tangible decisions to address this,” said Sango.
The United Nations Children’s Fund has also indicated its plans to research the best ways of engaging members of the apostolic sect in health education. – Names of victims have been changedPost published in: News