BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA GOVERNMENT has opposed a High Court application filed by child rights activists seeking to compel the Johane Marange Apostolic Church to launch a campaign against child marriages within the sect.
In the application early this month, the applicants, Masvingo resident Sharon Moffat, Legal Resource Foundation and Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe stated that they wanted the Marange Apostolic Church and the Apostolic Churches Council to display anti-child marriage messages at every place of worship or shrine for 19 consecutive weeks.
The application followed a public outcry over an increase in child marriages and sexual abuse in the apostolic sects after a 14-year-old girl, Anna Machaya, died in July after giving birth at a Johane Marange shrine in Bocha, Mutare.
The Marange Apostolic Church of St Johane and the Apostolic Churches Council were cited as the first and second defendants respectively.
Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe, Women’s Affairs minister Sithembiso Nyoni, the Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe Gender Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission were also cited as third to ninth defendants respectively in the matter.
In their plea, the government ministers opposed the application describing it as unnecessary, further stating that they had taken all the necessary steps required at law to curb child marriages.
“Defendants plead that all the legislative and other steps required at law have been taken to stop child marriages and enforcement of the same is being taken as occasions require,” the defendants said.
“Accordingly, defendants submit that the relief sought here against either some or all of them is misplaced, unnecessary and incompetent and should be denied by this honourable court.”
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Through the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the rights activists want the Marange Apostolic Church of St Johane and the Apostolic Churches Council, to display a message stating that the marrying off, and marrying of young girls is not part of their sects’ doctrines, and hence should not take place in the name of religion.
They want government to take steps to stop the vice. The matter is yet to be heard.
Follow Miriam on Twitter @FloMangwaya