Zimbabwe Republic Police have arrested a 26-year-old man on rape charges following the death of a teenage girl during childbirth. The case has been condemned nationwide.
The girl now identified as Anna Machaya, 15, is reported to have died and buried last month at a church shrine in Marange. Initially, the girl was said to be Memory Machaya but police investigations discovered that Memory Machaya was 22 years old, alive and married to a 54 year-old man. She and Anna were related but with different parents. The deceased’s parents together with the man who had impregnated her deliberately made people to believe that Memory was the one who was pregnant in order to conceal the death of Anna.
Police have also arrested her parents.
Anna’s parents are accused of lying about her age, name and also pledging their nine-year-old daughter to the same man, Hatirarami Momberume.
Anna’s death on 15 July, days after her birthday, has put the spotlight on the practice of child marriage within Zimbabwe’s popular Apostolic Church, which often rejects medicine and hospital treatment.
The circumstances that led to Anna’s death and subsequent burial are under investigation by the police and the country’s state gender commission.
An online petition calling for “justice for Memory Machaya”, as she had been mistakenly identified, has so far received more than 92,000 signatures.
Zimbabwean feminist activist Everjoice Win said it was time for people to pressure those “with the power to uphold the law, or make new laws”.
Women and girls were “not seen as fully human, with individual rights… to control our own bodies” she wrote on Twitter.
In a landmark judgement in 2016, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court banned marriage for both boys and girls under the age of 18. The age of sexual consent is 16.
Many child brides hope marriage will provide the opportunity to go to school. However, young girls end up falling pregnant soon after, or being kept at home to carry out household chores. The United Nations has urged the Zimbabwean government to recognise child marriage as a crime and bring an end to the practice.