Civil society groups in Mozambique have raised the red flag over a religious sect whose members are involved in child marriages.
The Johan-marangue sect obliges girls as young as nine to live with polygamous men, which the sect claims is a biblical commandment.
Ordinarily, the Johan-marangue Pastor has the right to get married with daughters or wives of the sect followers, ostensibly because “he shares their dreams.”
The sect members have the same right.
The sect is also known to reject conventional medicine.
Under civil society pressure, Mozambican authorities are now pursuing judicial penalties against members of the sect.
The first cases of child marriage within the sect are being processed by the justice system in Manica province.
The cases were triggered when three girls below the age of 14 years filed a court case contesting their supposed marriage as dictated by their parents and leaders of the Johan-marangue religious sect.
Civil society pressure has played a valuable role in in this particular case and in the overall campaign against child marriages, a serious problem in Mozambique.
This year alone, a Manica province-based NGO has rescued 8 girls from such unions. Last year, it did the same with 15 other girls.
However the campaigners say the justice system is not always supportive in taking punitive measures against the child marriages.
“The justice system needs to help us more there are times it does not help us effectively,” says Ms Cecília Ernesto of the NGO Levanta Mulher e Siga o seu Caminho (‘Stand Up Woman and Follow your Way’) that is helping the child victims.
Mozambican civil society members have been demanding that First Lady Isaura Nyusi institutionalise the anti-early marriage campaign and help in the social inclusion of the affected girls.
Mozambique is the tenth most affected country in the world by this problem of early marriages, with 48 per cent of girls across the country believed to be affected.
The northern Cabo Delgado province is the worst hit with 68 per cent, the capital Maputo has a rate of 21 per cent and the northern Manica province with 20 per cent of marriages happening before the girls have reached 18.
Data compiled by Unicef indicates that while the national rate of girls marrying before they are 18 years old is 48 per cent, that of girls marrying before the age 15 stands at 14 per cent.
In southern Africa, the only country with a worse incidence of early marriages is Malawi.
SOURCE: AFRICA REVIEW