BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
PRESSURE is mounting on law enforcers to bring to book leaders of a church where a 14-year-old girl died during childbirth last week in Bocha, Marange in Manicaland, sparking public outrage.
The pregnant girl was allegedly denied hospital assistance by a members of the apostolic sect, which resorted to prayers and kept her at the shrine until she died due to complications.
Her death has caused an uproar with women’s rights organisations and human rights defenders who are baying for the blood of the perpetrators, demanding justice for the girl.
No official police report has been made on the matter despite the wide publicity of the incident.
Africa Union (AU) goodwill ambassador for ending child marriage Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda challenged authorities to take a strong stand and bring the “criminals” who include the church leaders and the man who impregnated her to book.
“Can the persons be named, arrested and face justice. The accomplices are known, those who gave away the child, those who took her and stayed with her at the shrine. They are all guilty,” Gumbonzvanda said.
“This child has a name, family, community, and a government. Her death has created outrage. This child was raped, yet focus is on the pregnancy and not the gross inhumane violation of her body and her person.”
Gumbonzvanda said the girl was “raped” by a known person, the one who made her pregnant, yet he remained unnamed and protected by his religion and patriarchy.
“Political will to act is slow or inadequate. Many days later, we are telling the story of her death. When the story became known, I expected the police to take a strong position, together with the relevant ministries working to end child marriages,” she said.
The AU goodwill ambassador said while Zimbabwe had many policies, theories of change, results-based frameworks, standard operating procedures, guidelines for such cases, nothing has been done so far.
“We are all angry because this is not a single child, thousands of them in the country and millions in Africa are raped, sexually-abused and some die without anyone talking about them,” said Gumbonzvanda, whose efforts to end child marriages are recognised regionally and globally.
She said these religious groups were seemingly above the law.
“They break many laws and nothing happens to them. They are known, their leadership and their structures. Why do they seem untouchable? They render all the systems, policies and structures irrelevant.”
Speaking on the legal implications of the matter, Sethulo Ncube from the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association said it was a criminal offence to sleep with a minor.
“So whoever impregnated her should be arrested and prosecuted. The Domestic Violence Act looks at child marriages as a form of domestic violence. Then it was also unlawful and should have been reported,” Ncube said.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was still to get the full report on the matter.
“I want to find out. I have not yet received the full report,” Nyathi said.
- Follow Phyllis on Twitter @pmbanje