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Major protests against child marriage after Memory’s death

Vuxen håller barns hand

Memory Machaya in Zimbabwe was just 14 years old. After a year of rape and abuse in an arranged child marriage, she died last month when she gave birth to a son. Both the UN and civil society organizations in the country, including IM's partner Rozaria Memorial Trust, condemn the existence of child marriage and demand stricter laws.

At the age of 13, Memory Machaya was forced to leave school to marry a much older man. The rapes and the abuse that followed resulted in a pregnancy and at the end of last month she died when she gave birth to a son. The case has attracted a great deal of attention in the country and IM’s partner Rozaria Memorial Trust (RMT), which works against child marriage in poor rural areas, is involved in the case.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, Secretary General of the RMT, and appointed by the African Union Commission as Goodwill Ambassador on ending child marriage in the region, says:

– I am outraged by the rape, marriage and death of Memory Machaya. 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. It is important for us to fight justice and ensure impunity.

Zimbabwe has conflicting legal provisions on the minimum age for marriage. Zimbabwe’s constitution does not expressly prohibit child marriage, and a number of laws effectively condone it. There is a proposal in Parliament of a new Marriage Bill that recognizes child marriage as a crime, and CSOs now urge fast-tracking of the adoption of the bill. The government also yet has to finalize and implement a national action plan on ending child marriage, as the African Union has requested.

Chinga Govhati, a child rights activist in Zimbabwe, said in a statement to IM:

– Unless all duty bearers are willing to apply pressure on the scourge that is called ‘child marriage’ then we will continue to see violations of the rights of girls. The way Memory was treated by all with a duty of care around her shows how some communities view a girl child. She is just a commodity and not a human being with unalienable rights. A lot needs to be done, starting with raising awareness on the problem, equipping child caregivers with positive parenting skills, and aligning laws that prejudice children to the Constitution. Although the Marriages Bill, the Child Justice Bill and the Children’s Amendment Bill are currently before parliament, the process of reform of laws that protect children is dragging, and sadly the result is continued blatant abuse of children. We call to account all duty bearers to play their part and make sure Memory is the last child to be abused in this manner.

But Memory’s death is just the tip of the iceberg. The extreme situation in Zimbabwe with deep poverty, which has worsened further during the corona pandemic, is the main reason for the prevalence of forced marriages and early pregnancies in the country. One in three girls in the country is married off before the age of 18, according to a report from the UN. By marrying off a girl the family gets one less hungry mouth to feed, and the dowry can mean the opportunity to send a sibling to school. A girl that gets married off not only loses her childhood and her future by dropping out of school, but she is also at risk of sexual abuse and violence, and as in the case of Memory, of dying or being seriously injured in complications related to pregnancy.

By: Malin Kihlström