At a time when Zimbabwe is still to come to terms with the death of 14-year-old Anna Machaya due to labour complications in Marange recently, another 13-year-old has reportedly been taken as a fourth wife of a 35-year-old Johanne Marange Apostolic sect follower.
But following the chorus of discontent that erupted after the death of Annah Machaya in Marange, the people of Mushinye Village, Ward 8 in Muzarabani, have raised concern over the marriage.
Realising that the protests could result in him being arrested for marrying an under-age girl, Zonde, believed to be a vendor, is said to have whisked the young wife to St Mary‚Äôs, Chitungwiza.
Information on the marriage is being closely guarded by members of the community, which comprises mostly of the Apostolic sect members.¬†The Herald visited the homestead of Zonde‚Äôs parents and interviewed family members with assistance from ward councillor, Alderman Norman Chizeya.¬†Zonde‚Äôs father, Samuel Zonde, confirmed the marriage.
‚ÄúIt is true (that he married). He took the girl and went with her to Harare. He thought that nothing would happen.¬†‚ÄúHe had no idea the case will stir a lot of interest.¬†‚ÄúMost of the people talking about this issue are fighting my family,‚ÄĚ he said.
The father added that there were no problems with the in-laws, and they are not opening up about the case to strangers.¬†All the other three wives are at Zonde‚Äôs father‚Äôs homestead.¬†When The Herald later visited the homestead of the girl‚Äôs parents, no one was home and all doors were locked.
A villager who spoke on condition of anonymity said the community was angered by the marriage of Maria, adding that the girl‚Äôs parents never spoke against the marriage or reported the matter to police, indicating they agreed to the union.
‚ÄúTo people, they are denying that she is married but we know that she eloped to the 35-year-old as the fourth wife. Her mother is at the forefront of the¬†arranged marriage,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúInitially, he wanted to marry the girl‚Äôs sister, but he was beaten to her by another church member who came first and married her. Since the community started probing the issue, his cellphones are not reachable.‚ÄĚ
Alderman Chizeya said the girl‚Äôs case was heartbreaking, and one of the many cases that go unrecorded.¬†He added that ending child marriages was key to achieving Vision 2030 and the police must follow-up on where the child was taken and take her back home so that she continues with education.
‚ÄúThe parents are involved and they must be held accountable. We must lead by example and we don‚Äôt tolerate child marriages,‚ÄĚ he said.¬†Village head, Mr Noahs Mashinye, said he was unaware of the marriage as the parties never approached him, although he has heard the rumour.
‚ÄúI receive reports of such cases and we don‚Äôt tolerate child marriages. I hear about the case in the grapevine but I don‚Äôt deal with hearsay,‚ÄĚ said. Mr Mashinye.¬†‚ÄúWe work closely with councillors, health officers and the neighbourhood watch members.
‚ÄúThe people involved (the husband and wife) never approached me. The alleged perpetrator does not stay in the village as he is based in Harare.‚ÄĚ¬†Chief Muzarabani, born Alphonse Chuzu, said he had no idea about the case because such incidents were treated as top ‚Äúsecrets‚ÄĚ.
The chief confirmed that child marriages among the Marange Apostolic sect were rife, adding that they had become a ‚Äúculture‚ÄĚ, among sect members.¬†Married women in the sect allegedly sweet-talk young girls to join the marriage and become co-wives, said the chief.
Chief Muzarabani added there was need to engage the church leader since he is revered, so that he could be encouraged to change the harmful practices happening within the church.
‚ÄúThe village has nine village heads all from the church and when we try to probe such incidents, they deny and say such things don‚Äôt happen in their church,‚ÄĚ said Chief Muzarabani.
‚ÄúChurch members know about all the developments and the young girl and her parents are in agreement.¬†‚ÄúThe person who set such laws in the church is the only one who can repeal them. If not, all your prisons cells will be filled with the perpetrators and nothing will change.‚ÄĚ
Chief Muzarabani spoke strongly against child marriages, which he said were detrimental to economic development.¬†‚ÄúIt is difficult to preside over these apostolic sect members before the traditional court for the child marriages cases because the practice is lawful in their church.
‚ÄúThe only solution is to engage their leader and he is the only one who can liberate the congregants from such laws. Muzarabani topped the list of child marriages and due to awareness campaigns, we are witnessing a decline in the practice.
‚ÄúLet these young girls grow; it is our duty as a community to protect them. Parents need to play a central role in securing the girl child,‚ÄĚ said Chief Muzarabani.
Community childcare worker Chipo Sakala, said they have put in place a robust protection system to protect children against emotional, s.e.xual and physical abuse.
‚ÄúWe have received tremendous support in caring for vulnerable children. We work together with our traditional leaders and we don‚Äôt hesitate to report cases of child abuse.
‚ÄúWe heard about the girl‚Äôs case, and although church members are denying it, police have been contacted,‚ÄĚ said Mrs Sakala.¬†Mashonaland Central provincial police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Naison Ndliwayo said investigations were underway.
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