LAST week we toured Mutare as part of a team working on a document on the history of the church in Zimbabwe and little did we realize we would bump into some deplorable practices being done in the name of religion yet strangely everyone seems to be turning a blind eye. In recent times we have seen and heard of child rights groups all over the country campaigning for and advocating child rights, particularly the rights of the girl child.

But after a face to face encounter with some unimaginable practices in the apostolic sects-infested province, one could only wonder whether child rights groups have really been sincere in their cause or whether the government is serious about bringing an end to the rampant practice of marrying off girls as young as thirteen to, for example, a 55-year old grey bearded man. We came head-on with the ugly practice and spoke with the parties concerned and my honest feeling is that if ever the word ‘urgent’ applied to anything, it cannot relate more than it applies to the situation in the Marange area.

Many still have vivid memories of the case of Madzibaba Ishmael Mufani whose church members beat up police officers at a shrine in Budiriro following an effort to try and stop abuses within the sect. Members in Madzibaba Mufani’s sect were, among other things, required to destroy their education certificates. Some were required to divorce their wives for a plethora of reasons. The incident which became known as the Budiriro-debacle between the police and Vapostori is one in recent efforts to control religious abuse though some have interpreted it politically.

However, what is happening in Mutare, particularly in the Marange area makes the practices by Madzibaba Mufani and his jailed comrades look like child-play. In fact, when many people left the place, there was a general feeling that Madzibaba Mufani could possibly have been victimised for things other than the practices at his sect. The abuse in Marange is intense.

There was, in one homestead, a 57-year old free-spirited old man with a long grey beard who ‘proudly’ paraded his four wives and it was the last two wives whose appearance caught everyone’s attention. Looking closely at the third wife of the old man one would observe that her chest was flat; there was barely anything budding. Her face was a true picture of a supposed innocent girl who should be mastering the mathematics times-table somewhere in primary school. Even, as one woman perceived, there was scarcely any physical feature on the little girl that would be of pleasure to a man of a sound mind.

The sight of the fourth wife was like a knife to my heart. Surely, the girl should certainly be within parents’ care being taught how to wash her own clothes. Again, this was just another innocent young girl whose chest was flat and would easily pass for a grade 5 pupil. It was eye-opening and surely the government is sleeping at the wheel; it would be wrong to be economic with the truth in such a matter.

It really befuddles the mind how such practices continue unrestrained in a modern century like this one. One, like I mentioned, also wonders at the sincerity of child protection groups. One would be at fault to come across what is happening in these apostolic sects and yet remain quite. There comes a time when abnormal things begin to look normal, not because the things have become normal but because of prevalence.

The marrying off of twelve year olds in the apostolic sect is rampant as we would learn. It is common to see a 61 year old man married to his first wife, perhaps 57 years old, and a string of teenage wives. It is common knowledge that there is no real consent in these arrangements. What is worse, the parents of these children seem to be at ease with it.

The horror of the whole scenario, as some in the community recount is that, under the sect practices, it is the duty of the wife to ensure that the husband has had a good meal. The young girls are expected to scrounge for food to ensure the husband is treated to sumptuous meals, a practice which was cited as fuelling prostitution. They have no means yet they have to sustain a 58-year old able-bodied man. The practices are really sickening.

It is indeed incumbent upon the government and other voices of goodwill to take this fight further with the sects abusing girl children; I have always put myself up for attack by pointing out that religion should not be used as a means to abuse the vulnerable. These practices are archaic and cannot be allowed to continue unbridled. Action is required

Remember this is the Last Hour.