14-year-old Memory Machaya, who died a month ago while giving birth at an apostolic sect’s shrine in Manicaland, was forced to drop out from school by her aunt who then married her off, it has been established.
Memory’s maternal aunt, Alice Mabika, said her niece was taken from her parents by her paternal aunt who is married to one of the Johanne Marange Apostolic church’s top leaders.
“Her aunt, who is married to Mr Marange (one of the church leaders), took her to Mutare. She is the one who married her off in the church,” Mabika told the Sunday Mail yesterday.
She added that her sister, Memory’s mother, grew up attending a different church and only got to join the church by virtue of marriage.
“My sister didn’t grow up in this church. She only realised that her husband’s family goes to the church when she went to his rural home,” she said.
Memory died while giving birth on July 15. Her aunt Alice Mabika said the teen initially reported a headache, but instead of taking her to a clinic, some elderly women at the shrine smeared salt inside her mouth and poured paraffin into her nose.
Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi told the ZBC on Monday evening that they had assigned a “strong team” of detectives to investigate all aspects of Memory’s death, including sex abuse by her husband Evans Momberume, concealment of a death and possible murder. However, girl child rights activists worry about the slow pace of investigations into the death that occurred 15 July, a month ago.
Meanwhile, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima has said.
“The ministry would like to reassure the general public that it will intensify its efforts in the fight against child abuse and requests the collaboration of communities in this cause because it takes a village to raise a child,” Mavima said.
“The ministry further urges the nation to desist from violating children’s rights and to report all cases of actual or suspected abuse to make Zimbabwe a country where every child is free from abuse and thrives to attain their full potential for the betterment of the nation.”
Memory’s death has brought to the fore the practice of child marriage within Zimbabwe’s apostolic churches, which also allow polygamy. She was forced to drop out of school in Mhondoro to marry Momberume.
In a statement, the Zimbabwe Child Rights Coalition (ZCRC) said Memory’s sexual exploitation and circumstances surrounding her death were disturbing.
“As a result of that harmful practice, Memory was denied enjoyment and access to some of her fundamental rights, including education, as she was forced to drop out of school and her right to healthcare as she delivered her baby.”
The government has traditionally turned a blind eye to the practice of child marriage. Zimbabwe has two sets of marriage laws, the Marriage Act and Customary Marriages Act. Neither law gives a minimum age for marriage consent, while the customary law allows polygamy.
A new marriages bill that is before parliament for debate seeks to synchronise the laws, ban marriage of anyone below 18 years and prosecute anyone involved in the marriage of a minor.
The apostolic churches, which shun hospitals, attract millions of followers with their promises to heal illnesses and deliver people from poverty. Police have been accused of being slow to investigate the sect, a key voting constituency for ruling Zanu PF party which has turned a blind eye to ongoing abuses of children.
Reports say even though Marange falls under Manicaland province, the investigation into Memory’s death is being handled by the Criminal Investigations Department’s Homicide division in Harare after detectives from the eastern border town of Mutare were barred from entering the shrine by the secretive and powerful Johanne Marange sect leaders.