AT 47, Norest Kubaya (not her real name, she requested to use another name because her husband did not grant her permission to speak), who was married at the age of 12, has lost 10 children out of 14 births.
Kubaya says many other girl brides had suffered the same sad fate, such that in her Johane Marange apostolic sect community, it is not something out of the ordinary.
She believes her children died at a tender age because they did not get adequate healthcare as infants, although she was lucky to survive unlike many other child brides.
Kubaya shared her story following the death of 14-year-old Memory Machaya during labour in Marange on 15 July 2021.
‘‘I was in Grade Five when I eloped for my marriage. I must admit that its actually me who wanted to get married. My father was against it. He feared for my well-being since I was still too young to be married. Being a child, I was lured into the marriage by the prospects of a better life. My father wept when he heard I was pregnant the following year,” Kubaya said.
She eloped in 1987, becoming the seventh bride. Her husband married four other minor wives after her.
‘‘The government was not as strict on child marriages soon after Independence. It was not such a big issue then, as it is now, so no one saw a problem with it,” Kubaya said.
Her husband sired 64 children from his 11 wives. Kubaya said losing her children was traumatic. She revealed how after the death of every child she would go back to her family for emotional support.
‘‘After a child’s death, you go back to your parents for a few months as part of consoling. When I returned to him, it was my duty to conceive as part of replacing the deceased child. This is how I lost several of my children,’’ she explained in a deep and sorrowful voice.
She said the majority of women from the apostolic sect give birth at different shrines across the country.
‘‘There are trained midwives at the shrine but, personally, I was attended to by my mother, who is also a midwife. Several young women have died while giving birth because of complications that needed operations and may lose a lot of blood. The scenarios differ,’’ she added.
‘‘There will never be official statistics on how many young women have passed on during birth at the shrines. Burials are done secretly by few family members. The doctrine is that we must not reveal much to outsiders. I lost 10 of my children at different ages, the oldest being seven years. It was due to different illness, but I never went to hospital to get medication for them. We accepted that it was natural for them to die. Even some of the newly married still believe this,” she revealed.
Kubaya said although women are not allowed to speak to the media, the death of Machaya “is so heartrendering” that it must not be swept under the carpet.
‘‘Women are gagged from speaking to the media. The world must know and understand the challenges faced by young girls married in our church,’’ she added.
Entangled into marriages
She said many young girls are lured into marriages by some uncaring and selfish men.
With the benefit of hindsight, she now sees why her father was against her getting married early.
‘‘I regret how I ended up in this polygamous affair when I was still young to start off a family.There is no limit to how many wives a man could marry. The marriage is not rosy. Majority of these young girls are blindfolded by lustful men taking advantage of the minors,’’ she said.
‘‘If the truth was ever to be told, men in our sect deceive young girls. They lure them into marriage by providing some goodies. Majority of these young girls, if they were given choices, they could never get married early. Church members accept the abnormal as normal. Many parents are against the early marriages and I am one of the elder women who teach the young girls against early marriages, but the young girls don’t listen. Whenever they get goodies, including biscuits, zapnaks (snacks) among others, they can easily be married at a tender age,’’ she said.
Kubaya said some girls who managed to further their education snubbed early marriages.
‘‘Few of those girls who have been to school know and understand their rights and cannot be taken advantage of by men,’’ she revealed.
She however revealed that most of the men are defying Noah Taguta, the sect leader, who is against early marriage.
‘‘Some Johanne Marange sect men are worst culprits on child marriages as our leader Noah Taguta has on several occasions warned that he will never defend anyone who abuses young girls.
He even said anyone arrested over child marriage must face the wrath of the law and be jailed.
He has said he will expel and excommunicate those who are arrested for abusing the girl child through forced marriage.
Some men are criminals who must be arrested for abusing the young girls. It is against the church doctrine and culprits must not take advantage when government respect our leader,’’ she added.
Shamawari YeMwanasikana, a girl child empowerment organisation in Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East and Manicaland provinces, has been pushing for community-based campaigns to end child marriage through public engagement.
‘‘We have also been engaging religious and traditional leaders to curb child marriages. We also engage men and boys through forums that play a pivotal role in ensuring women and children’s rights are upheld in society,’’ explained Louis Tatswareyi, the communications coordinator.
The African Union’s goodwill ambassador to end child marriage, Nyaradzai Gumbodzvanda, said the late Machaya’s death is an important issue in looking at girl child’s rights.
‘‘This sad news is the most important frontier for the whole country in rooting out the practice as a cultural or religious norm that forced the majority of underage girls falling prey to early marriages,’’ Gumbodzvanda said.
The United Nations in Zimbabwe condemned the sexual violation of young girls following Machaya’s death.
‘‘UN in Zimbabwe notes with deep concern and condemns strongly the surrounding circumstances leading to the untimely death of 14-year-old Memory Machaya. Sadly, disturbing reports of the sexual violation of under-age girls, including early forced child marriages, continue to surface and indeed this is another sad case,’’ the UN said in a statement.
In Zimbabwe, one out of three girls will be married before the age of 18.
“The current trend of unresolved cases of violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe, including marriages of minors cannot continue with impunity. All forms of violence and early forced marriages severely affect the mental and physical health of girls and are a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which Zimbabwe is a signatory,’’ the UN statement read.
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