‘Church leaders fuelling child marriages’
By Helen Kadirire
Leaders of indigenous apostolic churches and charismatic evangelical groupings which mix Christian beliefs with traditional cultures are fuelling child marriages in Zimbabwe, researchers say.
Child marriage has become most prevalent among indigenous communities in rural areas across the country.
Humanitarian groups said anecdotal evidence proved this was prevalent in the apostolic churches, boasting approximately 1,2 million followers across Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe acknowledge that the practice is more prevalent among apostolic followers than other religious groups.
According to Christian Voice International reverend Tapfumaneyi Zenda, church leaders were driving more girls to get married by hoodwinking them through their beliefs and practices.
Speaking at a dialogue between ministers of religion and Plan International Zimbabwe, Zenda said churches were not talking to youths about the dangers of child marriages.
Child marriage often ends a girl’s education, exposes her to domestic violence and grave health risks from early childbearing and HIV, and traps her in poverty, rights groups say.
Plan International has revealed that more than 3 900 primary and secondary school girls dropped out to get married this year.
A 2014 survey by Zimbabwe’s National Statistics Agency also showed one in three women aged 20 to 49 surveyed reported that they married before the age of 18, while an estimated 4 percent married before the age of 15.
Since most child marriages are unregistered customary law unions, the survey is the best indicator of the scale of the problem in Zimbabwe.
“The greatest challenge to the fight against child marriages is traditional and cultural beliefs of the age of consent.
“There are some religious leaders who promulgate such practices by claiming that they were led by the spirit to marry children.
“It is wrong that so-called ‘spirits’ override the law,” Zenda said, adding that girls should be given the opportunity to choose their own partners and have a future.
United Nations goodwill ambassador for child marriages Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda said no country can ever prosper if girls are being deprived of health and education opportunities.
“Culture is dynamic and we have to do away with some of the outdated and negative practices that stifle girls’ development.
“People need to reclaim the dignity of culture and respect women.
“There is also nowhere in the Scriptures where it is mentioned that a man shall marry a child,” she said.
Apostolic Women Empowerment Trust (Awet) field officer Sharon Chimbeva said women are not given a voice to speak with regards to issues that concern women and girls.
Chimbeva added that as Awet, they have created groups called Champions of Change to stop child marriages in the different apostolic churches.
“We work with men but they also give us permission to work in a certain way.
“We want to go into the villages to work against child marriages.
“In Manicaland, apostolic sects have never been approached in ending child marriages …while in Mashonaland Central they say they are fed up of non-governmental organisations that come when they have an agenda,” she said. Daily News