A recent report released by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) points at Zanu-PF for fueling the abuse of women among the Vapostori, as the nation’s leading party turns a blind eye on some excesses of the Johanne Masowe Church, a source of supporters.

There is an estimated 1.3 million members of the Apostolic Church that mix African traditional beliefs and Christianity.

According to the research entitled “Married Too Soon” author Maureen Sibanda of RAU, “since the beginning of the year, when the party started talking about elections, its senior officials have been visible at the Church’s gatherings where they are telling them to vote for ZANU-PF come election time.”

According to the laws of the country, the marriage age for girls is 16 and above; for boys it is 18.
However, in the Apostolic Church girls are married at the age of 13, as soon as they reach puberty.

Reasons for such marriages, according to RAU, range from poverty to a belief that sleeping with young virgin girls cures the HIV infection, and also to beliefs in the spiritual powers of prophets to
ordain marriages. Consequently, girls and women do not have a say as to who they want to marry.

RAU said, “Child marriage is common in Zimbabwe, and 21% of children (mostly girls) are married before the age of 18.”

Citing the Girl Child Network (GCN), a civic organisation whose mission is to shelter, educate, and empower female victims, RAU said that “estimated 8,000 girls have been forced into early marriages or
were held as sex slaves since 2008.”

Zanu-PF top officials including President Robert Mugabe have been attending church services of the Apostolic Church but RAU noted that they have not openly done anything to condemn some of the Church’s ill practices.

Apart from that, RAU noted that religious beliefs such as the payment of lobola (bride price) also fuel the abuse of women.

Zimbabwe has presently two laws that sanction marriage and they are not in harmony with each other. The customary law is being used alongside general law. RAU deems that the state has the responsibility of changing customary practices that are not in consonance with human rights standards. “Legal reform, whilst useful, is not always effective because people do not easily give up on customs and traditions. However, innovative ways, including dialogue and awareness raising, can be done to change
customs. Culture, customs, and traditions are never static in any society.”