The United Nations has condemned the practice of child marriage in Zimbabwe following the death of a 14-year-old girl after giving birth in a church shrine, an incident that caused outrage among citizens and rights activists.
The case has highlighted the practice of child marriage within Zimbabwe’s apostolic churches, which also allow polygamy.
The government has traditionally turned a blind eye to child marriage. Zimbabwe has two sets of marriage laws, the Marriage Act and the Customary Marriage Act. No law establishes a minimum age for marital consent, while common law allows polygamy.
A new bill that is being debated by parliament seeks to synchronize the laws, prohibit the marriage of anyone under the age of 18 and prosecute anyone involved in the marriage of a minor.
The UN in Zimbabwe said in a statement that it “notes with deep concern and strongly condemns” the circumstances that led to the death of Memory Machaya, the 14-year-old girl from rural Marange in the east of the country.
“Sadly, disturbing reports continue to emerge of the rape of underage girls, including forced child marriages, and indeed this is another sad case,” the UN said.
One in three girls in Zimbabwe is likely to marry before the age of 18, said the UN, whose office in Zimbabwe groups the 25 agencies operating in the country.
The Zimbabwean police and gender commission said they were investigating the circumstances that led to the girl’s death and burial.
Local media reported that the girl died last month, but the case came to light only last week after angry family members, who were prevented by church security from attending her funeral, told her story to the state press. .
Reuters was unable to reach Johanne Marange’s church for comment.
The apostolic churches, avoiding hospitals, attract millions of followers with their promises to cure diseases and free people from poverty.
Zimbabweans expressed their outrage on social media.
“What you see today, that is, a young woman forced to marry, get pregnant and die, is not an aberration! It is part of the same continuum. Female people are not seen as fully human, with individual rights, choice, the right to control our own bodies, “Everjoice Win, a feminist and rights activist, tweeted.