Her son and the babies of other teenage mothers played in the dirt, while the mothers were waiting for guidance.
“I was very shocked to hear of her death. What if it was me? I am lucky to be alive because I gave birth in the house. Anything can happen,” Faith said.
The other child brides-in-laws interviewed by Faith and CNN did not want to disclose their names because they were afraid of being ostracized by shouting.
The Zimbabwean police stated in August that Machaya died during childbirth at the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church in July. She married a member of the church, 26-year-old Hatirarami Momberume.
CNN has been unable to reach his lawyer.
Her death triggered an outcry in Zimbabwe. The petition against child marriage has received thousands of signatures, and many activists hope that her case will expose the practice of child marriage, which is illegal in the country, but continues despite the threat of legal proceedings.
Husband and parents arrested
Zimbabwe police spokesman Paul Nyathi told CNN that Momberume was arrested along with Machaya’s parents after the Machaya case caused an outcry.
Nyathi said Mumbolum is facing rape charges and her parents were accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly providing the police with false identification documents to conceal her true age.
The authorities claimed that Machaya’s parents Edmore Machaya and Shy Mabika also promised to give Momberume a 9-year-old child.
Nyathi told CNN: “Our investigation showed that the relevant personnel did not open up their hearts. They are trying to sweep things under the carpet, especially regarding possible activities in the church.”
Alice Mabika, speaking on behalf of Anna’s family, declined to comment when contacted by CNN on the matter.
“I was asked not to comment on this issue until the investigation was completed,” she said.
The government usually turns a blind eye to child marriage practices. Zimbabwe has two sets of marriage laws, namely the “Marriage Law” and the “Customary Marriage Law.” Neither law sets a minimum age for consent to marriage, and customary law allows polygamy.
A new marriage bill being debated in Parliament aims to synchronize the law, prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from marrying, and prosecute anyone who participates in the marriage of minors.
Church being censored
Child marriage is common in Zimbabwe’s towns and villages, where most of the poor live in the country, and parents often say that they are forced to abandon their young daughters when they get married to reduce their burden of raising them.
Human Rights Watch says that child marriage is “rampant” in some apostolic churches.
Niyasa Maranci, a spokesperson for the John Maranci Apostolic Church, where Anna died, said that the church does not allow children under the age of 18 to marry and denies that its members abuse minors.
“Our leaders have been preaching against this,” Maranci told CNN.
“We expel any members who engage in such acts. This is a criminal offence and should be handled in court like the Mumburum case,” he told CNN.
He said that the teenager died in a temple owned by the church, but not in the church. According to him, the Zimbabwean government banned church gatherings to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and there has been no regular church services since then.
The shrine is a place where members pray and receive spiritual guidance from church leaders. According to the church authorities, it is considered sacred because of its spiritual power.
Maranci added that the church cooperated with the police and church members helped find Mumbolum, who allegedly went into hiding after her death.
Mtata told CNN that child abusers in these churches rarely face consequences when arrested.
Mtata said: “At present, we have many cases that seem to have not been sentenced, but many people are at large.”
Blockade causes a rise in teenage pregnancy rates
Activists told CNN that the Covid-19 lockdown last year led to an increase in teenage marriages.
According to Natsiraishe Maritsa, many female students are forced to stay at home and there is an increase in child marriages. Her initiative is to teach teenage mothers a self-defense course in Epworth, one of the poorest towns in southern Harare.
“Most school-age children have nothing to do because the school is closed. This motivates them to marry early,” Marissa told CNN.
Women’s Minister Nyoni stated that officials are collecting data on teenage pregnancy statistics, adding that rural areas are the most affected.
“We haven’t updated yet, but in rural Zimbabwe, the pregnancy rate has not dropped as expected. We are still compiling data and hope we can see the scale. Men should stop this behavior,” she said.
She also called on the authorities to take action against churches that abused girls.
“We say that all churches that abuse children should be recorded. We want all churches that start things in God’s name to be responsible, not child abuse,” Nioni told CNN.
Miserable and impoverished life
Early marriage and lack of qualifications often make young girls lead a miserable and impoverished life.
Faith told CNN that her parents forced her to marry a 26-year-old man after she dropped out of school at the age of 15.
She said that she had lost hope of returning to school. Faith’s husband works in a gold mine, and the couple often haven’t seen each other for several weeks. The income they earn from low-paying jobs can hardly support their family.
“I live by doing chores. It’s hard to get soap to wash my children’s clothes. It’s a hard life,” she sighed.
Spiwe 17, is Faith’s friend. She told CNN that she married at the age of 15 after her parents divorced.
Arimuzhu washes clothes and does other housework for middle-class workers in the city, earning less than US$2 a day. She said that her 9-month-old son often went hungry. “Life is just hard,” she said.
Rutendo calmly watched Arimuzhu tell her story. She was worried and thoughtful.
The 16-year-old girl is pregnant and she said she has not registered for prenatal care at the local clinic. The teenager said that her husband works in a gold mine and their salary combined is not enough to make a living.
Mungai said that when they quarreled over the family’s meager financial situation, her husband often beat her.
“Whenever I complain about hunger, he gets angry,” she said hoarsely. “There is no peace at home.”