The “husband” of a 14-year-old girl who died during child birth is behind bars after he was charged with having sex with a minor.
Evans Momberume is set to appear at the Mutare Magistrates Court on Thursday following his arrest in the eastern border town on Wednesday.
Memory Machaya died while giving birth at a shrine of the Johanne Marange church in Marange on July 15.
Her death caused an outcry, with the United Nations condemning the prevalence of child marriages in Zimbabwe especially within white garment churches.
Law enforcement sources said Momberume, who had eluded police after abruptly leaving the shrine, was arrested by detectives from the Criminal Investigations Department’s Homicide Division after the Zimbabwe Republic Police made Memory’s death a priority investigation.
He is set to be charged with having sexual intercourse or performing indecent acts with a young person which carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Memory was forced to drop out of school in Mhondoro while in Form 1 after she was married off to Momberume, who is believed to be in his mid-to-late-twenties. The practice is common among white garment churches.
The teenager went into labour on July 15 and “midwives” at the shrine tried to deliver the baby. She died during child birth, but her baby – a boy – survived.
According to Memory’s mother and aunt, she was buried inside the shrine two hours after her death, but the church’s leadership have denied this. Memory’s mother said she was blocked from witnessing her burial and banished from the church for “causing trouble”.
Finding Memory’s burial site will now be a priority for police investigators.
The government has traditionally turned a blind eye to the practice of child marriage. Zimbabwe has two sets of marriage laws, the Marriage Act and Customary Marriages Act. Neither law gives a minimum age for marriage consent, while the customary law allows polygamy.
A new marriages bill that is before parliament for debate seeks to synchronise the laws, ban marriage of anyone below 18 years and prosecute anyone involved in the marriage of a minor.
The United Nations in Zimbabwe said in a statement that it “notes with deep concern and condemns strongly” the circumstances leading to Memory’s death.
“Sadly, disturbing reports of the sexual violation of under-age girls, including forced child marriages continue to surface and indeed this is another sad case,” the UN said in its statement, dated August 7.
One in three girls in Zimbabwe was likely to be married before turning 18 years, said the UN, whose office in Zimbabwe groups all 25 UN agencies operating in the country.