By Samuel Kadungure
A 15-YEAR-OLD girl from Marange who was married off to a geriatric member of the largest polygamist Johanne Marange Apostolic Sect — but was lucky to escape, this week bared her soul and exposed the torturous abuse she encountered at the hands of the churchman and her own father.
The girl is now under the custody of a local human rights activist, Mr Nerwande Court Chidowe, who reported the case to the police, resulting in the suspect only identified as Mashamba being probed for sexually abusing the underage girl.
The girl's father is also standing accused of marrying her off and physically abusing her for resisting the marriage.
The suspects will appear in court on January 12 on attempted rape and physical abuse charges.
Mashamba stays in Marondera.
Mr Chidowe has offered the victim sanctuary and also sent her to a local college to pursue her academic studies, where she is doing Form 3.
The girl said she was 14 when her father handed her over to the alleged suspect in August 2010.
Her mother died in 2004.
Mashamba allegedly paid $70 as a bride price to the girl's poverty stricken father.
In a wide ranging interview on Tuesday this week, the girl said while other practices in the church involved parents sending their daughters to live with rich men in the community on the understanding that after the young child comes of age she will hopefully get married to the man and bring money to her family, her case was different.
The girl, who appears aware of her rights, added that her unfortunate incident and others like her are not only shocking and sad, but also threaten the development of the nation and are a sharp contrast to the advancement of women's rights.
"I was utterly against the forced marriage, and I had to fight it. Marriages must not take place at that age. The marriage will not succeed, and that culture must be abolished."
"The future of many girls in the apostolic church is in jeopardy as their poverty stricken parents are marrying them off at a tender age, robbing young girls of their right to education and exposing them to gender-based violence, HIV and Aids. My future was uncertain and I was very scared.
"I was 14 years when my father married me off to Mashamba, a churchman who stays at Number … Yellow City, Marondera. That man is old enough to be my father, but he was determined to have a minor like me for a wife. I could not stomach being forced into a romantic relationship with such a man who has lost all his teeth due to old age," explained the girl.
She said she was surrendered to Mashamba by her two grannies, who told her that he was going to be her husband.
"When they left, Mashamba ordered me to go into the bedroom and sleep with him. Being a child who knew nothing about men, Mashamba undressed me and pushed me on the bed. He caressed my breasts and eventually got on top of me to force penetration. Being scared, I screamed and he released his grip.
“He was infuriated by my actions and he started beating the hell out of me. I was injured on the back. He wanted to force himself on me, but I resisted. I pushed open the door and got out of the house naked," said the girl.
"This happened every night for the two months that I was under his custody. He would end up beating me, forcing me to flee from the house.
“I later realised that I was endangering my life and I resorted to taking refuge in a nearby forest."
The girl added that her late mother's sister from whose care she was married off to the man, heard about her plight and drove her to her father's place in Chigonda Village, under Chief Marange.
"Mashamba was against the move and that same day he followed me to our rural home where on arrival he paid $70 as lobola. What shocked me was that amaiguru agreed to the lobola deal. The trick was to buy my consent to sleep with him.
“That evening, my own father gave the two of us a separate hut to sleep in. He tried every trick to force me to succumb to his demands, but since I was refusing to be married to him I refused to have sex with him. I did not sleep that night. He reported the incident to my father and I was thoroughly beaten.
"The next day I was given the same room to sleep with him, I resisted his sexual advances and woke up early and ran away from our home. My grandmother gave me $5 for bus fare to Mutare, where I met an aunt who was staying with Mr (Nerwande Court) Chidowe, who helped me by reporting the case to the police. They took care of me and sent me back to school."
The girl added: "I am an isolated case because I had the rare guts to fight the injustice, and was lucky to escape from the jaws of the rapist. Many unfortunate girls are dying in silence and someone must come to their rescue."
When contacted for a comment, Mr Chidowe confirmed assisting the girl.
"Her mother is now late and her father married her off. I got to know her through her aunt who worked as a maid at my house. I work with Padare Men's Forum, and when I heard her story I suspected that an offence could have been committed, and I approached the police, who launched investigations into the matter.
"A docket CRB 13000/11 has been opened against Mashamba and the girl's father. They are facing separate charges of sexual and physical abuse respectively.
“They will appear in court on January 12.
Mr Chidowe said police must act on a myriad of statutory rape cases and illegal marriages within most of the apostolic sects as many innocent girls were dying in silence.
He appealed to victims of early marriages to speak out.
"Early marriage also jeopardises a girl's right to education. In addition, married girls have few social connections, restricted control over resources and little power in their new households, where domestic violence is always common in such marriages.
"Girls who are forcibly married to older men are not allowed to question their husbands.
“In a country where gender equality has not yet been realised, this amounts to insubordination and is considered a disgrace to family and community," he said.
This obnoxious traditional practice of child marriage is most common in poor, rural apostolic sect dominated communities, and its consequences only perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
More often than not, child brides are pulled out of school, depriving them of an education and meaningful work.
They suffer health risks associated with early sexual activity and childbearing, leading to high rates of maternal and child mortality as well as sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
And they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and social isolation.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it has also ratified the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development: both guarantee the rights of the girl-child, including the right to education. However, it is apparent these rights are not yet being realised by many Zimbabwean girls.