By Columbus Mavhunga for VOA News
HARARE — Women’s rights activists, opposition groups, and the United Nations are pressuring Zimbabwean authorities to arrest a man who had married a 14-year-old who died last week while giving birth at a church shrine. Zimbabwean police say they are investigating the matter.
Hashtags #EndChildMarriagesNow and #JusticeForMemory have been trending on social media after 14-year-old Memory Machaya died while giving birth at an apostolic sect shrine about 400 kilometers east of Harare. The United Nations in Zimbabwe issued a statement saying child marriages continue to surface in Zimbabwe, where 1 out of 3 girls is married before the age of 18.
Sirak Gebrehiwot, the UN spokesman in Zimbabwe said that is not acceptable.
"The United Nations in Zimbabwe notes with deep concern and condemns strongly the surrounding circumstances leading to the untimely death of 14-year-old Memory Machaya from Marange, who died while giving birth at an apostolic sect shrine," he said.
"One of the key instruments to ending child marriages in Zimbabwe, the UN believes, is to fast-track the adoption of the Marriage Bill that recognizes child marriage as [a] crime and, of course, rolling out [a] national action plan on ending child marriages will go a long way.”
Responding to the social media protests, Zimbabwean police issued a statement saying they are “conducting investigations” into Machaya’s death.
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda heads Rozaria Memorial Trust, which fights child marriage in rural areas. She was appointed goodwill ambassador on ending child marriage on the continent by the African Union Commission.
“I am outraged by the rape, marriage, and death of Memory Machaya," she said. "I am also grateful to see a huge outpouring of Zimbabweans and people in the region who are calling for an end to child rape and to child marriage. I ask the government of Zimbabwe to step up the investigations and arrest the perpetrator. I also call on the government to investigate and document how we can end these sexual abuses that are happening within religious institutions. It is important for us to fight impunity and ensure justice.”
Opposition leader Linda Tsungirirai Masarira is one of thousands of Zimbabweans who have signed a petition to push police not to ignore the death of Machaya.
"I demand justice as a woman and as a mother to whatever happened to Memory. But for me, when I look at the issue, it is just a tip of the iceberg. I have set up an appointment with minister of home affairs [Kazembe Kazembe]. And I am going to talk to him about the underlying issues of the Marange apostolic sect. For me, religion does not mean violating country’s laws,” she said.
Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister Kazembe Kazembe could not be reached for comment Sunday.