Nov 11, 2016

Churches critical in ending child marriages

Brenna Matendere
The Zimbabwean
November 11, 2016

Over the years religion has been cited as one of the biggest causes of child marriages with the apostolic sect being touted as the major driver of the scourge.

In the apostolic faith, religion combines with traditional culture, and girls are often encouraged to marry much older men at a very young age. It is a widely shared belief among the congregants that if a girl reaches puberty, any man can claim her to become his child bride.

In an interview carried by this reporter in Gweru recently, a midwife in the Johwane Masowe Apostolic faith, Carren Nyika, said her church encourages child marriage. She added that they believe it’s a way of ensuring that the children remain “holy” and stay away from sin.

“It is true that in our church beliefs are such that our girls must marry as soon as they reach puberty. That is at the ages between 12 and 16. Our church doctrine is that girls must marry when they are between 12 and 16 years old to make sure they do not sin by having sexual relations outside marriage. As soon as a girl reaches puberty any man in the church can claim her for a wife,” she said.

Nyika also pointed out that virginity testing and polygamy is also widely practiced within the Apostolic faith religious sects therefore fuelling child marriages.

“ Church doctrine enforced by elders, husbands and other family members prohibits married girls from continuing with school,” she added.

A study carried out by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), an organisation which provide high-quality research for the purposes of relevant and current policy change, shows interesting statistics on the role the apostolic sect mission is playing in fuelling child marriages. The organisation which is a member of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, carried its survey in Goromonzi district recently.

In its report RAU noted: “Though available literature on child marriages is inconclusive on the role of religion in child marriages, the study’s data indicates that … the Apostolic sect was the most practiced religion among both child brides (47%) and non-child brides (67%) before marriage. Of note as well was the 33% for both “Formal Christian” and “Alternative Christian” before marriage for child brides.

“After marriage, membership of Apostolic sects fell by 34% among child brides, but it remained the same (47%) among non-child brides. Membership to “Formal Christian” and “Alternative Christian” among child brides remained the same after marriage at 33%. This is a very interesting change, and it may be hypothesised that it represents a reaction by child brides to their marriage.”

In the wake of these statistics and the rampant practise of forcing girls into early marriages within religious sects, it is of paramount importance to rope in churches to end child marriages.

In an interview,  Archbishop Johannes Ndanga, president of the Apostolic Churches Council of Zimbabwe, a coalition of over 1,000 indigenous apostolic churches, rallied his followers to end the scourge of child marriages. He cited the High Court ruling barring marriage of girls under the age of 18 as the biggest reason why there must be a paradigm shift within the apostolic sect.

“We no longer encourage child marriages and so I am putting it on record that members of the apostolic sect must desist from the practice. We used to have people saying they had received visions in which they would marry young girls but that has to change now.

“If anyone is caught within the apostolic sect marrying children we will be left with no option but to hand them over to police. That is in line with the constitutional court judgement,” said Ndanga.

Zimbabwe joined the AU Campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, the Child Rights and Women’s Rights Coalitions has been working on a National Action Plan to End Child Marriages and its related communication for development activities. The Constitutional Court ruling of January 2016 has been an impetus to move the agenda forward.   All these efforts are part of the global campaign to end child marriages.

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