Children from various Apostolic sects recently challenged some practices that exposed them to abuse in their churches.

Among the practices they vowed to resist are child abuse, early marriages and prohibition from seeking medication from hospitals. They want access to information on reproductive health and the right to sound education.

The children, who were attending a workshop organised by the Union for Development of the Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said such repressive practices were retrogressive and should be done away with.

The workshop was attended by children drawn from five provinces — Harare, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and Manicaland.

“Some of our girls are married at a tender age,” said one of the participants. “They are married not at their will, but they are forced into some of these marriages.”

Another girl claimed that at their church teenage girls were routinely tested for virginity and anyone found to have lost her virginity was paraded in front of the whole church.

“We are regularly tested,” she claimed. “The experience is so painful. No young man in the church will want to marry you. And at the end of the day, we are left with no option but to marry someone older than our fathers.”

A girl from Mashonaland Central added, “Those married at a tender age have children year after year because they are not able to access family planning pills. They end up having many children, who they fail to fend for.”

UNICEF gender and human rights advisor, Anna Mutavati, said the attitude shown by the children was “something that is ground-breaking.” “We have had many programmes targeting different children, but we have never really had an opportunity to discuss issues affecting children who are growing up in Apostolic churches,” she said.

UDACIZA secretary-general, Reverend Edison Tsvakai, said they would urge different churches to revisit doctrines and philosophies. “The major purpose of this gathering is to try to gather the problems that are being faced by Apostolic children; issues such as early marriages and not sending children to school,” he said.

“We decided to engage children so that they grow up knowing what is expected of them when they have children: as far as education, health and child rights are concerned and how they can change future generations.”

Tsvakai said they were working with the ministries of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, and that of Health and Child Welfare, as well as Labour and Social Welfare,  in trying to address issues affecting children whose parents attended Apostolic sects.

But it looks like the children are definitely going to face an uphill task. During the workshop, one elderly member of the church vowed that they would not go for HIV-testing, claiming that such a disease was non-existent in their church. “Our church started in 1932 and there are rules that are there. For example, we do not allow sex before marriage,” said the member, whose name could not be established. “We know that we don’t get the disease because we are faithful. So we don’t allow anyone to go for HIV-testing.”

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