CHILD MARRIAGE AMONG APOSTOLIC SECTS IN ZIMBABWE
By Brian Maregedze
While covid 19 is ravaging communities, another pandemic is also severely affecting the lives of young girls-child marriage. Child marriages are products of poverty as well as religious, cultural practices. The story reported in the Manica Post, 06 August 2021 points to a young girl married off at 14 and died while giving birth in the Marange-Manicaland province of Zimbabwe. Social media platforms have been trending with the story, and many individuals and organisations representing the girl child’s interest have been denouncing such injustice in Zimbabwe. However, this piece doesn’t suggest that apostolic sects are solely responsible for the scourge of child marriage in Zimbabwe but instead offer an entry point to the conversations on the subject.
Marange Apostolic sects are being exposed. Through Desk Research, it can be observed in Mutasa Community that the Marange Apostolic Sect members believe that when girls start to menstruate, they become women in the community’s eyes. Therefore, marriage is the next step towards giving a girl her identity as a wife and mother. Menstruation is also a part of child marriage in some communities since the girl is then considered ready to carry a child and is therefore considered an adult (UNICEF, 2001:6). Sibanda (2011) observed that most child marriages within the Apostolic Sects are facilitated by mweya, which directs and helps males to choose and marry a girl child. Hallfors et al.(2016) argued that given that mweya is a supernatural concept that cannot be verified or questioned, some men were deceptively using it to marry any girl they wished (UNICEF, 2015). Nonetheless, Hallfors et al. (2016) noted that some Apostolic Sects prohibit child marriage, where it is punishable through sanctions. This displays the diversity among the Apostolic Sects, and nuanced efforts should be made to understand why some sects accept child marriage while others prohibit it.
Apostolic Sects share a common overarching spiritual concept called mweya, a religious practice akin to the Holy Spirit in English (Maguranyanga, 2011). They use mweya to communicate with and receive messages from God and prophesy (Maguranyanga, 2011). It is also a tool for healing, and most sects prohibit the utilisation of formal health services. As such, mweya is a significant spiritual aspect that differentiates the Apostolic Sects from most Christian denominations in Zimbabwe (Mpofu et al., 2011). Although most Apostolic Sects share this belief system, caution should be taken against viewing these sects as homogenous. There are various Apostolic Sect denominations, and they have a wide range of religious practices.
A child is defined as every boy or girl below 18 (Section 3 (81), Constitution of Zimbabwe). Child marriage is a marital union where either spouse is below 18 years of age, although girls are disproportionately affected. In Zimbabwe, 31 % of daughters become married before attaining age 18 in contrast to 5% of boys (ZIMSTAT 2011).
Source: Citizen files
But what is hindering the implementation of the law? A legalistic approach is also limited because, in Zimbabwe, access and use of legal systems is mediated by family ties and consensus, especially regarding cases embedded in social relations and norms, such as child marriage. However, it is very unlikely for an Apostolic Sect girl to report to the police if she is forced to marry an older man due to various potential negative consequences such as condemnation by family members, disruption of family ties, and church sanctions.
Efforts to enforce laws among the Apostolic Sects are obstructed by the fact that these communities are hard to reach and secretive (Maguranyanga, 2011). On the other hand, the government is inhibited from fully applying these child protection laws because the Apostolic Sects constitute a significant portion of the electorate, and further clashes may have a negative bearing on electoral outcomes (UNICEF, 2015).
Recommendations to end child marriage in Zimbabwe
It is critical to take action to end child marriages by:
- Provide regular training for police and prosecutors on their legal responsibilities to investigate and prosecute violence against women, including child marriage.
- Facilitate the provision of shelters, legal services, and other support mechanisms to protect girls from child marriage and to support those currently in child marriage and those turned away by their families.
- Initiate local and national awareness campaigns that provide information to parents, guardians, religious leaders, and community leaders about the harmful effects of child marriage, emphasising the health risks of early pregnancy and HIV transmission and the benefits of girls’ education.
- Adapt and adopt best practices from other countries to empower girls by providing girls with safe spaces, economic incentives and support to families in need, information about the harm of child marriage and sexual and reproductive health, and life skills training.
- Support and strengthen initiatives by local groups and the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe to combat child marriage.
- Develop retention strategies to help prevent child marriage and to keep married girls in school. For instance, providing incentives for families to keep girls in school, scholarships, expanded school feeding programs, adequate sanitation facilities, life skills programs for married girls through targeted outreach and support programs, and evening or part-time formal schooling and vocational training opportunities.
- Empower girls and boys with information and knowledge about their reproductive and sexual rights by introducing a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.
- Ensure access to reproductive health information and services for adolescents.
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