UN calls for end to child marriages as Zimbabwe mourns 14-year-old child bride

Tuesday August 10 2021
A girl carries water.

A girl carries water. Zimbabweans have expressed outrage after a 14-year-old child bride died while giving birth. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The United Nations has condemned the practice of child marriage in Zimbabwe after a 14-year-old girl died while giving birth at a church shrine.

Zimbabweans have also expressed outrage about the girl’s death online with a petition demanding justice for Memory Machaya garnering nearly 40,000 signatures in a few days.

The girl’s death in rural Marange in the eastern parts of the country has brought back into the spotlight the scourge of child marriages in Zimbabwe, especially among indigenous religious sects.

Memory was allegedly forced out of school and into marriage at age 13. She died on July 15 and was secretly buried two hours later by the church.

Her death was only exposed last week because the church was allegedly offering Memory’s nine-year-old sister as a replacement to her “husband.”

The UN in Zimbabwe said it “notes with deep concern and condemns strongly the circumstances leading to the death of Memory Machaya.”


“Sadly, disturbing reports of the sexual violation of underage girls, including forced child marriages, continue to surface and indeed this is another sad case,” the UN in Zimbabwe, which represents all 25 UN agencies in the country, said in a statement.

It said one in three girls in Zimbabwe is likely to be married before turning 18.

This is despite the fact that Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court in 2016 banned child marriages after two former child brides challenged the country’s Marriage Act.

The judges struck down a section of the law that allowed girls to marry at 16, but boys at 18.

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

“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 is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Zimbabwe is a signatory.”

Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said millions of girls in Zimbabwe continue to suffer in forced marriages because the government was failing to enforce the Constitutional Court ruling.

“Child marriage is rampant in Zimbabwe, especially among indigenous apostolic churches, an evangelical group that mixes Christian beliefs with traditional cultures and has millions of followers across the country,” Mr Mavhinga said.

“Girls are often sexually abused, beaten by their husbands and in-laws, confined in their homes, forced into pregnancy and labour, exposed to serious reproductive health risks, including risk of death, and denied an education.

“Millions of Zimbabwean girls like Memory Machaya continue to suffer abuse because of the authorities’ inaction.

“The future of millions of girls depends on Zimbabwe’s government ensuring the ban on child marriages is fully enforced.”