Last month 14-year-old Memory Machaya was reported to have died giving birth at a church shrine in the eastern region of Marange, Zimbabwe.
Machaya’s story has sparked a national outcry which campaigners hope could present a watershed moment in raising awareness of the harms of child marriage. A petition named ‘Justice for Memory Machaya!’ has amassed more than 90,000 signatures following a surge of international press coverage. While police say they have begun investigations, many are calling for greater transparency in the public interest.
Machaya’s death has been linked to the practices of Zimbabwe’s Apostolic Church, a sect that practices child marriage and often rejects the use of medicine and hospital treatment.
Zimbabwe has committed to end child, early and forced marriage by 2030. It also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18. But despite this, girls in Zimbabwe are not safe from the practice. Over a third of girls (34%) are married before the age of 18 in the country, and 5% are married before their 15th birthday.
While the drivers for child marriage are complex and vary across the country, it is believed that in Machaya’s case, she was married within the Apostolic Church which encourages girls as young as 10 to marry much older men for “spiritual guidance”.
Girls Not Brides Zimbabwe is calling for the government of Zimbabwe to adopt a more coordinated approach to tackle the problem of child marriage and support girls who are already married.
The United Nations has also urged the government of Zimbabwe to recognise child marriage as a crime and bring an end to the practice.
“Our hearts go out to Memory and to her family” says Nerida Nthamburi, Head of Africa Engagement at Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage. “Memory’s story reminds us daily of why we must redouble our efforts to end this practice in every country. Child marriage robs girls of their agency, education and even their lives.”
[i] WHO, 2016, Global health estimates 2015: deaths by cause, age, sex, by country and by region, 2000–2015, Geneva: WHO.
Since this story was published, police in Zimbabwe have issued a press statement indicating that the 15-year-old girl who died is Anna Machaya, and not Memory Machaya. Three arrests have been made in connection to Anna’s case, including her former spouse and parents.
Girls Not Brides Zimbabwe will continue to watch the case as it develops.
In the time it has taken to read this article 27 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds