By Mark Mhukayesango
Gokwe, January 25, 2016 – “It is unthinkable for people to believe we are violating these girls’ rights when we marry them.
“I love and treat them so well. It is unfortunate that this court ruling has made us look like beasts when we would actually be saving most of these girls from poverty.”
These are sentiments expressed by Madzibaba Bornwell, a 64-year-old apostolic sect leader from Gokwe’s Kasavaya village in a recent interview with RadioVOP.
He was commenting about last week’s Constitutional Court ruling which outlawed the practice of marrying children below 18, a rife practice among men in the white robbed church.
Bornwell has four wives, the youngest being 17 and having joined the polygamous union at 15. Because of her youthful features, the secondary school dropout and now mother of one, is Bornwell’s favourite.
Clad in ankle long white robes and stroking his greying beard, an indignant Madzibaba Bornwell still thinks the courts were blind to that the illicit marriages also save their young brides from poverty.
“Their fathers know that we are men of means and give us the girls in marriage. Is it wrong to love someone much younger than you?” says Bornwell with a chuckle. Bornwell regrets men from the white robbed church have been ridiculed by a society which he feels has never taken time to understand the circumstances surrounding such marriages. “We
are not the monsters that you (media) think we are,” said the cotton farmer, adding that he still wants to take his youngest wife back to school. Madzibaba Gerald Mupende, another polygamist from the church, also feels child rights campaigners were reading too much into western norms.
“The patriarchs of old were all polygamous and that is where we derive our practice,” he said. “None of the young girls have ever gone hungry after they became my wives; so where is the problem?
“This issue of child rights is over emphasised and we are adopting western views which do not suit our own customs as a country. Let men marry whoever they want. Young girls keep us youthful.”
Following the court ruling, which does not affect past marriages, child rights organisations say government should ensure the landmark ruling is enforced in every part of the country. Dot Youth projects coordinator, Sibusiso Bhebhe said this will never stop if government did not follow up the ruling with robust efforts to end the controversial practice.
If this is not done, the girl child will continue to be viewed as a commodity or a hunger relief instrument which is no longer acceptable worldwide,” he said. “The land mark ruling should be taken seriously and the protection of victims must be government’s number one priority.”
According to statistics released by Plan Zimbabwe International in December 2015, apostolic sects in Lower Gweru recorded 29 cases of child marriages. Child protection is said to be very poor in these areas, according to the Department of Social welfare with 2014 statistics showing that most poor families in the rural areas who fail to take their children to school often marry them off at a young age.
Globally, 140 million girls become child brides annually which translates to 39 000 per day, whilst 16 million adolescent girls give birth annually and 90% are already married according to the World Health Organisation WHO. WHO says 50 per cent of pregnant girls below 18 deliver still births, whilst the number of maternal deaths continue to soar year after year.
Zimbabwe has made great strides towards the protection of children’s rights, safeguarding minors from abuse, but poverty and church doctrines remains a hurdle towards the attaining the desired goal.