Zimbabwe arrests after child bride dies giving birth at church shrine

Anna Machaya's death at a church leads to calls for the government to end forced child marriage.

The hands of a 16-year-old who was married at the age of 13IMAGE SOURCEUNAMID
iThe UN has condemned the practice of child marriage

Police in Zimbabwe have arrested a 26-year-old man after a teenage girl died during childbirth, in a case that has sparked outrage among citizens and rights activists.

Anna Machaya, 15, is reported to have died and been buried last month at a church shrine in the eastern region of Marange.

Police have also arrested her parents.

The case has exposed the exploitation of minors, as she was reportedly forced to abandon school to get married.

Anna’s parents are accused of lying about her age and also pledging their nine-year-old daughter to the same man, Hatirarami Momberume.

He faces charges of child rape.

The three accused have not yet commented.

Anna’s death on 15 July, days after her birthday, has put the spotlight on the practice of child marriage within Zimbabwe’s popular Apostolic Church, which often rejects medicine and hospital treatment.

The circumstances that led to Anna’s death and subsequent burial are under investigation by the police and the country’s state gender commission.

An online petition calling for “justice for Memory Machaya”, as she had been mistakenly identified, has so far received more than 92,000 signatures.

Women and girls were “not seen as fully human, with individual rights… to control our own bodies” she wrote on Twitter.

In a landmark judgement in 2016, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court banned marriage for both boys and girls under the age of 18. The age of sexual consent is 16.

But some families believe child marriage can provide financial benefits.

Many child brides hope marriage will provide the opportunity to go to school. However, young girls typically end up falling pregnant soon after, or being kept at home to carry out household chores.

Arrests and prosecutions of offenders are rare and authorities including politicians have often been accused of turning a blind eye to paedophilia among religious sects which have a lot of political influence.

The United Nations has urged the Zimbabwean government to recognise child marriage as a crime and bring an end to the practice.

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