Apostolic sect in court over child marriages

…as law-based group, women’s coalition mount anti-child marriages campaign

HARARE-Stung by the death of a 14-year old girl, while giving birth at a Marange Apostolic Church of St Johanne, a Masvingo resident and two human rights organisations have gone to court to force the church and others to start preaching against child marriages.

While Machaya’s case made global headlines and attracted condemnation from the United Nations (See page 4), the practice has been ongoing for decades and reports indicate that the practice is continuing. A religious doctrine that claims the holy spirit can distribute young girls to older men within the church is blamed for fuelling the scourge.

The church has to change its ways, and a good start would be to incorporate anti-child marriage messages as part of its weekly gospel, say the applicants in their submissions.

In the summons filed recently at Harare High Court, Sharon Moffat, a Masvingo resident, Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) and Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) want the court to order the Marange Apostolic Church of St Johanne and the Apostolic Churches Council to publish messages indicating that the marrying or giving in marriage of girl children is not an aspect of their respective faiths.

LRF is a law-based human rights organisation while WCoZ is a network of women’s organisations involved in the preservation and protection of women’s rights including the rights of children.

Moffat, LRF and WCoZ also want the High Court to order the churches to take steps to end the practice of marrying and giving in marriage of girl children by declaring to congregants and adherents that child marriages should not be committed in the name of the religion.  Moffat, LRF and WCoZ are represented by Paidamoyo Saurombe of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Advocate Thabani Mpofu, Advocate Regina Bwanali and Advocate Choice Damiso, instructed by ZLHR.

The messages should be published for 19 consecutive weeks at every shrine or every place of worship to clarify this stance to congregants and adherents.

Health and Child Care Minister Constantino Chiwenga, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi, Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Hon. Kazembe Kazembe, Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister Hon. Sithembiso Nyoni, Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe Gender Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should also take action.

These authorities must identify children married in terms of the practice, ensure their removal from such marriages and place them in places of safety that are established in terms of the Children’s Act for their rehabilitation, according to the demands contained in the court summons.

Moffat, LRF and WCoZ also want the criminal justice system to be activated against all men who have married or otherwise have had sexual intercourse with minor children in the name of religion.

This is especially important given that the practice has continued even after the Constitutional Court ruled against child marriages (Mudzuru and Another v Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and Others in Case No. CCZ-12-15).

Marange Apostolic Church of St Johanne, Apostolic Churches Council, Chiwenga, Ziyambi, Kazembe, Nyoni, Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe Gender Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission are cited as respondents in the summons.

The applicants argued that some members of the Marange Apostolic Church of St Johanne church have taken to marrying and marrying off girl children falsely claiming such practice to be part of their religious beliefs while such a breach has also taken root in most church organisations represented by Apostolic Churches Council.

Moffat, LRF and WCoZ accused Marange Apostolic Church of St Johanne and Apostolic Churches Council of not taking a position to affirm their true beliefs and faith and to disassociate themselves from their adherents who violate the law in their name.

Moffat, LRF and WCoZ argued that Marange Apostolic Church of St Johanne and Apostolic Churches Council had accommodated the criminal practices and given the impression that they not only tolerate them, but that those practices constitute a fundamental component of their faith.

Moffat, LRF and WCoZ want the High Court to declare that the practice of marrying and marrying off girl children to be declared as not an essential element of the religious beliefs of Marange Apostolic Church of St Johanne and the organisations represented by Apostolic Churches Council and for such practice to be declared to be in breach of sections 19(1), 19(2)(a), 19(2)(d), 19(3)(b)(iii), 26(a), 26(b), 27(2), 51, 53, 78(1), 78(2), 80(3), 81(1)(d), 81(1)(e) and 81(2) of the Constitution (See Know Your Rights on p4  for more on these constitutional provisions).

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