I was thinking about how to begin this piece when a specific parallel came to mind. The nature of Memory Machaya’s story, in all its tragedy, and the attention it has brought to Zimbabwe’s Child marriage laws, seems to closely mimic that of George Floyd. In many instances, death is only that, death. But in a few, the death of an individual marks the beginning to chitter chatter that ultimately aims at justice.
Divine powers chose Memory Machaya to be the sacrifice, the catalyst so to speak, to, ironically live in her death by telling the story of the horrendous religious practice that has subjected Zimbabwean children to psychological, social, mental, emotional, sexual, physical and moral harm.
There have been many questions left unanswered, tears that for many will fall without end. In all of this, the question that should aim at an answer is “where do we go from here?” How do we resolve a matter that deals with constitutional intersections. We know that human rights are in no way absolute. We know that several instances show that freedom of religion, like most rights and freedoms, are limited where it is reasonable, justifiable , and when it is in the interests of an open and democratic regime that promotes human dignity. So again, where do we go from here?
The legislature’s role in society is an intriguing one. Members of Parliament (notably comprised of none other than human beings), come together to instigate a process that can ultimately change the course of social justice in a specific aspect. In Zimbabwe, the legislature currently has a Bill on the ropes. If passed, this law could criminalize marriage between adults and minors (individuals below the age of 18). Sounds simple doesn’t it? A sensible resolve to a senseless problem. We know however, that nothing in life is ever simple.
Without getting into too much of the legal, Zimbabwe has two main Acts of Parliament that govern marriage, The Marriage Act and the Customary Marriage Act. In those Acts alone, the intersection of rights is already notable. Several marriage compounds agreeable to customary unions would not be so for civil. Polygamy stands at the customary side, and it is polygamy that is recognized and practiced by the Apostolic Faith responsible for several child marriages. The faith promotes a custom that requires or permits a man to take several wives at a young age, by young I mean as young as 10 years old. Where do we go from here?
The chitter chatter has led to nationwide condemnation of the Child marriage and general religious practices that led to the untimely and painful death of Memory Machaya. The United Nations in Zimbabwe has condemned Child Marriages and the Zimbabwe Republic Police has undertaken to investigate the matter. Meanwhile, the court of Public Opinion has spoken. It’s voice has been loud, clear and concise- child marriages must unequivocally be put to an end by way of the law.
This is only the beginning of what will be a very long journey, of seeing where we will go- from here.