Religious Sect Accused of Condoning Child Marriage

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — When Anna Machaya died while giving birth at the shrine of one of Zimbabwe’s most secretive religious sects, there was outcry across the country.

Anna was only a child, having turned 15 years old a mere 10 days before her July 15, 2021 death. She was carrying the baby of Hatirarami Momberume, her 26-year-old husband. It’s unclear when they married, but it was with the consent of her parents, who belong to the Johane Marange Apostolic Church, a conservative religious sect that has been accused of marrying underage girls to older men. When their daughter died, the parents tried to cover it up, police say.

“The parents openly lied to the police,” says a report posted on the website of Zimbabwe Republic Police.

Paul Nyathi, a police spokesperson, says the parents attempted to hide their daughter’s true age by presenting investigators with identification documents of her 22-year-old cousin.

Anna’s death has renewed calls for the Zimbabwean government to crack down on religious sects like Marange, which critics accuse of institutionalizing sexual abuse and marriage of girls to older men. Child marriages are endemic in the country, with 33% of women and 4% of men age 20-49 reporting that they were married before reaching the adult age of 18, according to a 2019 survey by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency. But critics say adults who arrange child marriages rarely get prosecuted because sects like Marange have a lot of political power.

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