Govt Urged to Tighten the Law Against Child Marriages

Apostolic sects in Zimbabwe have been urged to adopt the United Nations Faith for Human Rights Framework guideline in order to curb cases of child abuse and child marriages. This call was made by the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) in a statement, Tuesday, following the death of Memory Machaya who died giving birth at an apostolic shrine in Manicaland.

The “Faith for Rights” framework provides space for a cross-disciplinary reflection and action on the deep, and mutually enriching, connections between religions and human rights. The objective is to foster the development of peaceful societies, which uphold human dignity and equality for all and where diversity is not just tolerated but fully respected and celebrated.

MIHR Coordinator Khumbulani Maphosa said the government should enforce mechanisms that will outlaw practices that violate children’s rights. “MIHR is deeply disturbed by the continuous violation of children’s rights by faith communities across Zimbabwe, with the latest case of the 14-year-old Memory Machaya who died giving birth in a faith shrine in Marange being one of the thousands of such incidences which go unreported and with impunity,” said Maphosa.

“Considering that some of these faith communities responsible for the gross violation of children’s rights are attended by government workers and senior government officials and being cognisant of Section 196 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, we implore the government to put in place enforceable mechanisms that outlaw government workers’ participation in faith and cultural practices that violate the rights of children.”

Maphosa said the continued violation of children’s disguised under faith is a symptom of impunity and weak regulatory frameworks related to the protection of children’s rights in the country. “We call on the government of Zimbabwe, the Independent Commissions, the traditional leadership and the faith community to expedite the formulation of mechanisms that protect children from unjust customs, cultures and faith practices, and specifically,” he said.

“The government must enact a child protection law that outlaws child marriage, child pledging and places burden on all sectors of the community to protect children from such unjust religious and cultural practices. The Child Protection law should also criminalise any explicit or implicit concealment of child marriage.”

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) also called for transparent prosecution of powerful figures who perpetuate the abuse of women and girls under the guise of religion and culture. “It is now common knowledge that women and girls remain vulnerable before religious and other powerful figures whom they expect to provide them with support especially in times of social, spiritual, and economic need,” ZCBC noted.

“We are concerned that so many cases involving popular religious men accused of abusing women and girls have not resulted in a transparent investigation trail and successful prosecutions. In some instances, the sentences have been suspended or unwarranted bails have been given.”

The Bishops Conference stated that many women who take the bold step of reporting cases of sexual abuse sometimes withdraw these cases, allegedly due to intimidation.

“This has created impunity for perpetrators of sexual abuse in the church and various organisations. The case of Memory Machaya brings to the fore the vulnerability of children at the hands of religion and culture. Not long ago, the nation was shocked to receive the news of a young boy who became a victim of ritual murder in Murehwa,” ZCBC said.

“Considering the gravity of the seriousness of Memory Machaya’s case and the many related cases of sexual abuse of women and girls, we as the Church totally reject all forms of abuse of women and girls as a misrepresentation and perversion of the Christian faith.”

ZCBC urged churches to stop protecting perpetrators and report all forms of abuse of women and girls in their midst. “We call upon the ZRP to make public the process of investigation of Memory’s case including stating if the accused is arrested. An independent national inquiry into sexual abuse of women and girls in general but on abuse in the churches in particular. Justice for Memory Machaya is Justice for all women and girls subjected to sexual abuse in Church,” the Conference stated.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology

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