Death of a 15-year-old girl while giving birth exposes dark practice of child marriage in Zimbabwe

Teen mothers in Epworth, Zimbabwe tell of a life of abuse and hardship once they are married off.

CNN has changed the names of the young girls interviewed for this article because of safety concerns.

(CNN)Faith and her other teenage friends sit outside in the bright sun while waiting for their Taekwondo session to start in Epworth, a township southeast of central Harare.

Her son and the babies of other teenage mothers play together in the dirt while the mothers wait for their instructor.
They speak in low tones about the circumstances that led to the death of 15-year-old Anna Machaya during childbirth in July. (Previous media reports had misidentified her as Memory Machaya, 14)
    "I heard of her death with great shock. What if it were me? I feel lucky to be alive because I gave birth in the house. Anything could have happened," Faith said.
      Faith and other child brides CNN spoke with did not want their names revealed for fear of being ostracized for speaking out.
      Machaya died while giving birth in July at Johanne Marange Apostolic Church shrine, Zimbabwe's police said in August. She was married to one of the church's members 26-year-old Hatirarami Momberume.
      CNN has been unable to reach his lawyers.
        Her death has sparked an outcry in Zimbabwe. A petition against child marriage has garnered thousands of signatures, and many campaigners hope her case will expose the practice of child marriage which is outlawed in the country but has continued, despite the threat of legal action.
        According to the campaign group, Girls Not Brides in Zimbabwe, over a third of girls are married before the age of 18 and 5% are married before their 15th birthday.

        Husband and parents arrested

        Following the outcry generated by Machaya's case, Momberume was arrested along with Machaya's parents, Zimbabwe police spokesperson Paul Nyathi told CNN.
        Momberume is facing rape charges, while her parents have been charged with obstructing the course of justice for allegedly providing false identification documents to the police concealing her real age, Nyathi said.
        Authorities allege that Machaya's parents, Edmore Machaya and Shy Mabika, also promised to give a 9-year-old to Momberume.
        "Our investigations have shown that people involved are not opening up, and they are trying to sweep things under the carpet, particularly on what activities could be taking place in that church," Nyathi told CNN.
        Alice Mabika, speaking on behalf of Anna's family, declined to comment when contacted by CNN about the incident.
        "I have been asked not to comment on this issue until the investigations are done," she said.
        The government has typically 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 synchronize the laws, ban the marriage of anyone below 18 years and prosecute anyone involved in the marriage of a minor.

        A church under scrutiny

        The practice of child marriage is widespread in townships and rural Zimbabwe, where most of the country's poor live, and where parents often say they're forced to give away their young daughters in marriage to reduce the burden of their upkeep.
        The Apostolic church has also come under scrutiny as young girls are encouraged to marry older men, for "spiritual guidance," according to Girls Not Brides.
        Human Rights Watch said child marriage is "rampant" among some apostolic churches.
        "Child marriage is rampant in Zimbabwe, especially among Indigenous apostolic churches, an evangelical group that mixes Christian beliefs with traditional cultures and has millions of followers across the country, " HRW said in a post.
        One teen mother told CNN she got married at15 and is struggling to make ends meet.