Authorities ignore child rape

The police continue to turn a blind eye to the child abuse that is prevalent in the Johanne Marange Apostolic Sect, according to the Research and Advocacy Unit.

Some arms of the government have refused to clamp down on the activities of apostolic sects because of the support they give Zanu (PF).
Some arms of the government have refused to clamp down on the activities of apostolic sects because of the support they give Zanu (PF).

A recent study by the RAU says child marriages are common practice in the sect, commonly known as ‘vapositori’, which has approximately 1.2 million members in the country.

Child marriage, also known as early marriage, is defined as any marriage carried out below the age of 16 years, before the girl is physically, physiologically, and psychologically ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing.

Married too soon

“It appears that the fact the police and government turn a blind eye to this church’s undesirable practices, such as child marriage, is not by default, but is a strategy meant to avoid alienating their electorate,” said Maureen Sibanda who carried out the research, “Married too Soon”.

Zanu (PF) has been openly courting the sect in order to get votes since the beginning of the year. President Robert Mugabe has attended the gatherings of the sect wearing the white regalia and the holding the crook.

Camilious Machingura, the Project Officer of the Union for Development of the Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa, an umbrella organization of apostolic churches, says the young women do not have a choice.

“We have discovered from our work that most women are not willing to stay in polygamous marriages because of what they are experiencing. Most of them tell us that they were forced to get into these marriages by their parents when they were very young, in order to escape from poverty,” said Machingura.

The holy spirit made me

Taurai Gova, a 54-year-old member of the flourishing sect, said the holy spirit gave them the girls.

“If the spirit comes to me and says that I should marry somebody, who am I to refuse to follow God’s will? We are led by the holy spirit and it directs our ways,” he said.

Lazarus Mhandu, another sect member, quoted the Bible in defence of the practice.

“The Bible says people should marry and multiply. That is what we do and that is why we marry younger women who can have as many children as possible.” Machingura said people with such convictions were ultra-conservative.

“Some of their beliefs are shocking. The young women, who are mostly raised in the church, cannot challenge the old practices.” Sibanda said levels of education among “child mothers” were often low.

“Their overall development is compromised, leaving them socially isolated with little education, skills or opportunities for employment and self-realization. This leaves child brides more vulnerable to poverty, a consequence of child marriage as well as a cause.”

Sex slaves

Girl child marriages are still common in Zimbabwe and, according to the Girl Child Network, whose mission is to shelter, educate and empower female victims, 21% of children (mostly girls) are married before the age of 18.

“In 2008, an estimated 8 000 girls were forced into early marriages or were held as sex slaves,” said GCN.

Apart from politicians taking a back seat, the continued recognition of customary law alongside general law has been cited as one of the major reasons forced marriages continue in the country.

While sex with a 12-year-old girl is statutory rape under the general law, the same act, under customary law, is matrimonially sanctioned. Zimbabwe Women’s Lawyers Association Director, Emilia Muchawa, said authorities should intervene urgently.

“It is unlawful to marry a minor, or allow a minor to be married off. Children should be given their time to fully develop. If they are married young, this restricts them from fully developing and realizing their full potential in life,” says Muchawa.

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