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After Pregnant Minor Dies, Zimbabwean Christian Leaders Urge Probe into Abuse in Churches

Members of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) at a press conference in Harare in 2019. Credit: ZHOCD

The demise of a 14-year-old girl who died while giving birth at a shrine in Zimbabwe last month has prompted Christian leaders in the Southern African nation to call for an “independent national inquiry” into the sexual abuse of women and girls in church premises. 

Memory Machaya is reported to have died on July 15 at the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church while giving birth to a child she allegedly conceived with Evans Momberume, a member of the church to whom she was married at the age of 13. 

“We are calling for an independent national inquiry into sexual abuse of women and girls in general but on the abuse in the churches in particular,” Christian leaders under the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) say in a statement, which ACI Africa obtained Friday, August 13. 

“We are concerned that so many cases involving religious men accused of abusing women and girls have not resulted in a transparent investigation trial and successful prosecutions,” they say. 

In some instances, ZHOCD members say, abuse cases against the religious persons have been suspended or unwarranted bails have been given to the accused. 

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They further note that many women who take the bold step of reporting cases of sexual abuse sometimes withdraw them “allegedly due to intimidation.” 

“This has created impunity for perpetrators of sexual abuse in the church and various organisations,” the Christian leaders say. 

ZHOCD members who are drawn from the leadership the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), the Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) say sexual abuse cases are “a far cry from the Zimbabwe We Want.” 

“The Zimbabwe We Want is one where the state actively works towards promotion of the rights of all citizens and the church contributing in ensuring that there are necessary safeguards for women and girls from practices that harm them and jeopardize their well-being and future,” they say. 

In the statement dated August 10, ZHOCD members urge the country’s security agencies to make public the process of investigating Memory's case.

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The Christian leaders express their rejection of “the abuse of women and girls as a misrepresentation and perversion of the Christian faith.”

They also ask perpetrators “to repent from such crimes perpetrated in the name of our faith.” 

ZHOCD members further call on church leaders in the country to stop protecting the perpetrators of sexual crimes and report all forms of abuse of women and girls in their midst. 

Memory’s death has reportedly caused public outrage in the Southern African country. A petition calling for justice for her has received over 80,000 signatures. 

In a statement issued August 7, the leadership of the United Nations in Zimbabwe has also “strongly” condemned the circumstances surrounding the minor’s death.

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The UN officials in the country express concern about the “disturbing reports of sexual violation of under-aged girls, including early forced child marriages” that continue to surface in the Southern African nation.

“A situation where one out of three girls in Zimbabwe will be married before the age of 18 is also not acceptable,” they say. 

The UN officials in Zimbabwe also call for an end to the “current trend of unresolved cases of violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe.”

As a way forward, they call for the strengthening of efforts by the government, faith-based organizations and development partners to end the violence against women and girls. 

The UN officials also urge the Zimbabwean government to “fast track the adoption of the Marriage Bill, which recognizes child marriages as a crime and to intensify the role of the National Action Plan on Ending Child Marriages.”

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