HARARE, ZIMBABWE – When Anna Machaya died giving birth at the shrine of one of Zimbabwe’s most secretive religious sects, there was outcry across the country.
Anna was just a child, having turned 15 just 10 days before her death on July 15, 2021. She was carrying the baby of Hatirarami Momberume, her husband of 26 years. It is unclear when they married, but it was with the consent of her parents, who belong to the Johane Marange Apostolic Church, a conservative religious sect accused of marrying underage girls to older men. When their daughter died, the parents tried to cover it up, police say.
“The parents openly lied to the police,” said a report on the Zimbabwe Republic Police website.
Paul Nyathi, a police spokesman, said the parents tried to hide their daughter’s true age by showing investigators the identity documents of her 22-year-old cousin.
Anna’s death has renewed calls for the Zimbabwean government to crack down on religious sects like Marange, which critics accuse of institutionalizing the sexual abuse and marriage of girls to older men. Child marriage is rampant in the country, with 33% of women and 4% of men between the ages of 20 and 49 saying they got married before reaching adulthood of 18, according to a 2019 survey from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency. But critics say adults who arrange child marriages are rarely prosecuted because sects like Marange wield so much political power.