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Zimbabwean Sect Leader Charged After Police Rescue Over 250 Children from Labour Abuse

Published March 23, 2024
2 months ago

A shocking case has emerged from Nyabira, Zimbabwe, where police intervened to rescue 251 children from a farm allegedly operated by a local sect leader, Ishmael Chokurongerwa. Known as Madzibaba Ishmael, the 56-year-old "self-styled prophet" of the Johane Masowe sect, faced child abuse charges in court following the raid, in which law enforcement officers uncovered disturbing circumstances.

The raid, executed approximately 30km west of Harare, the nation’s capital, revealed that the minors were coerced into performing manual labor under the guise of learning "life skills". Most of the children, who were denied access to education, also lacked official birth certificates. Adding to the grim discovery, authorities found 16 unregistered graves on the property, some of which belonged to infants.

Chokurongerwa, along with seven other church members, now confronts charges related to both the inappropriate treatment of the children and violations of the Burial and Cremation Act, as well as the Children's Act. Although their pleas remain unrecorded, they are due for a bail ruling on March 19, with investigations ongoing and the potential for additional charges.

The response from the community and nationwide has been one of shock and condemnation. Apostolic sects, with large followings in this majority-Christian country, have been under scrutiny for allegations involving the mistreatment of women and children, including involvement in child marriages. Chokurongerwa's Johane Masowe sect, often distinguished by their white garments, has previously faced similar accusations.

The heart-wrenching scene captured during the raid, showcasing women and children singing under a tree before being escorted away by authorities, has sparked widespread concern. The incident exacerbates the pressing dialogue on children's rights and the responsibility of religious and community leaders in protecting the vulnerable against exploitation.

As the legal proceedings against Chokurongerwa and his associates continue, the country grapples with the task of addressing such abuses masquerading as religious practice. The Zimbabwean government, human rights organizations, and child protection advocates must now work diligently to ensure justice for the victims and to enact measures preventing future occurrences of such egregious acts.

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