An Apostolic sect member, Hatirarami Momberume, was on Friday remanded in custody for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl, who died recently while giving birth in Manicaland province.
Momberume, also known as Evans Momberume, appeared before a local magistrate, Lynne Mary Mungwari, who denied him bail and remanded him in custody to early next month.
State prosecutor, Tirivanhu Mutyasira, asked the magistrate to deny Momberume bail saying he is facing serious charges of rape and for causing the death of Anna Machaya.
His lawyer, Brian Majamada, did not challenge the magistrate’s ruling. Momberume, who is a member of the Johanne Marange Apostolic sect, is expected to apply to the High Court for bail amid an international outcry for him to be punished severely for marrying and impregnating a minor.
The United Nations has expressed concern over the death of Anna Machaya, noting that child marriages should be outlawed internationally.
In a statement, the U.N. in Zimbabwe said that it "notes with deep concern and condemns strongly" the circumstances leading to the death of the 14-year-old girl from rural Marange in the east of the country.
"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.”
Reuters reports that this case has brought to the fore the practice of child marriage within Zimbabwe's apostolic churches, which also allow polygamy.
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.
One in three girls in Zimbabwe was likely to be married before turning 18 years, said the U.N., whose office in Zimbabwe groups all 25 U.N. agencies operating in the country.
The apostolic churches, which shun hospitals, attract millions of followers with their promises to heal illnesses and deliver people from poverty.
Reuters and VOA Correspondent Loidharm Moyo contributed to this article