Zimbabwe Standard - September 26, 2010
GCN in drive to stop child marriages
A campaign has been launched to protest against apostolic sect churches’ age old practice of marrying off young girls to elderly men
BY LESLEY MOYO
The sects are notorious for oppressing women and girls under the guise of religion. Lately, they have frustrated government’s efforts to vaccinate all children against measles.
According to the Girl Child Network (GCN), a civic organisation whose mission is to shelter, educate and empower female victims, an estimated 8 000 girls have been forced into early marriages or were held as sex slaves since 2008.
Betty Makoni the GCN founder, recently launched a massive appeal on behalf of one of the members of the Johane Marange church in rural Murewa.
It is reported that a girl aged 13 was recently rescued from a man, aged 50 who has five other wives.
Her 12-year-old sister will also be given to a 57-year-old man who has more than six wives.
In an interview this week, Makoni confirmed that she has initiated a protest against the church’s practices.
“The number of appeals coming to my attention has significantly increased and I join the world in demanding that all underage girls and even some women be set free.
“I know that this has devastated the lives of girls in Zimbabwe and the government must set up a commission of enquiry,” she said
“Child rape is a serious crime globally and men found forcing girls to marry them should be jailed.
“But the task ahead is huge as it is almost every man in the church who married an underage girl.”
A man from the Johane Marange church who spoke on condition that he is not named for fear of being excommunicated said it will take a lot of advocacy for the church to change this practice.
“Our church believes in polygamy and even the President (Robert Mugabe) in one of his addresses to the apostolic church said there is nothing wrong with polygamy.
“It is common practice for young girls to be married off to older men. In church we sit in an orderly manner, the men sit on their own followed by the women then young girls and boys. This often makes it easy for the men to pick out from the group the girl they want to marry,” he said.
“A girl can be married as early as eight years old but the husband is only allowed to have sex with her when she reaches 12 years old. The reason why it is rampant is that most of these men hide behind prophecies. They usually abuse their position as prophets to hand-pick girls for the elderly men in the church who already have other wives.”
These churches are often criticised for their numerous unorthodox practices such as teenage marriages, polygamy and refusal to have their children immunised or taken to hospital for any treatment. Sect members maintain that their religion forbids the use of modern medicine and health science, preferring a strong faith in the healing powers of Jesus Christ instead.
Over the years their children have been withdrawn from formal education, which again is taboo according to their religion.
One of the Johane Marange activists has reportedly threatened the exiled Makoni with unspecified action following the launch of the campaign.
“I am out of this debate but I promise you we will fire back,” said the activist in a message posted on Betty Makoni facebook page.
This is not the first time Makoni has been threatened by alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
In September 2007, a senior police officer in the Law and Order section who is also a senior member of the Johane Marange church allegedly organised the arrest of Makoni.
This was after she had rescued a 10-year-old girl who had been given to a 40-year-old man in Bocha in Manicaland province.
The church has over the years been tainted by shocking sexual abuse cases when it is supposed to be an institution that upholds moral values.
The Roman Catholic Church has also been smeared by cases of sexual abuses perpetrated by priests.In his four-day state visit to the United Kingdom last week, Pope Benedict XVI, made a public apology on sex scandals in his church and set general policy guidelines on protection of children within the church.
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