Organisations advocating for girl child rights have hailed the constitutional court for raising the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 years.
Speaking to Impact Stories Zimbabwe, Katswe Sistahood representative in Kwekwe district Chengetai Chininga said the enactment of the new age of sexual consent is what they have always been advocating for and it is a major step towards the protection of the vulnerable girl child.
”We have always been advocating for this and we can also use this as a foundation to deal with child marriage cases in places like Marange.
“The paedophiles have been using the ‘sex with a minor’ clause as part of their defence, and often to their advantage, and 13-16-year-olds were not protected at all.
“Now we have that protection, once a child, meaning everyone below the age of 18, has been taken advantage of by a major it is rape (#hands-penises off our children).
“If they fall pregnant as a result of that abuse it’s rape no ifs, no buts! And they qualify for safe and legal abortion,” said Chengetai Chininga.
However, Chininga suggested an exception where the matter involves minors.
“Meanwhile, I think other jurisdictions where they have Romeo and Juliet clause like SA, ‘consensual sex’ between minors is left to the Magistrate’s discretion I think. Maybe we can also have exceptions where one is 17 and the other 18 or 19,” she said.
In addition, Zimbabwe Association of Church-Related Hospitals Kwekwe district coordinator Pretty Ncube said the move to raise the age of sexual consent protects the girl child from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
“l think it is a good move as it is in the best interest of the child because sex has many consequences which minors don’t know or think about e.g cervical cancer, HIV and pregnancies,” said Ncube.
Furthermore, Ncube highlighted that the new age of sexual consent is in alignment with the constitution and it also reduces cases of Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV).
“What’s left is enforcement and publication of sentences given to those who bed minors.
“Many parents were not happy that a 16-year-old can consent to sex, yet can’t be married and most anti-SGBV partners have been pushing for a review upwards so it tallies even with the constitutional definition of a child, anyone below the age of 18. Very positive that if this is enforced it will reduce SGBV cases and child marriages,” added Ncube.
Child Rights lawyer Linah Nyamukachi also welcomed the judgment as it is in the best interest of every child.
“It is a progressive judgement which was overdue and is in the best interest of the minor child.
“As a legal practitioner and as a child rights lawyer, this is something that is within the confines of the law even the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which is the international convention on the rights of children.
“The reason being, that surely for someone who is below 18 to get married they would be destructed, be it in school and their health will be prejudiced at the same time. A child has a right to play, you cannot have a child who is supposed to play being a mother at the same time; it’s clearly abuse,” said Nyamukachi.
As a legal counsel, Nyamukachi highlighted how difficult it has been, to defend a girl child in court, who was below 18, after they had been sexually abused under the guise of ‘consensual sex with a minor’.
“The law was conflicting and mainly the girl child was disadvantaged the most, but now the law is very clear,” she said.
Meanwhile, abuse of girls below the age of 18 is on the increase in Zimbabwe, especially in some white garmented apostolic churches and sects. Young girls from the age of 16 to 18 have been vulnerable to rapists who would escape jail through the use of ‘having consensual sex with a minor’ which was not treated as rape by law.
The age of consent has been 16 years of age whilst a girl would be allowed to marry at the age of 18 constitutionally. Hence, the girl child advocates have been fighting for the alignment of the law which now places the age of consent at 18.