Bill to protect children’s rights approved Dr Jenfan Muswere

Zvamaida Murwira-Senior Reporter

Cabinet yesterday approved principles to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill that will criminalise sexual activity with a child below the age of 18 as the Government seeks to harmonise laws relating to age of sexual consent.

While the Constitution defines children as those below the age of 18, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act defines a young person as one who is below 16 years thereby creating a gap in the law which would possibly expose children above 16 to sexual exploitation.

Raising the age from 16 to 18 years is also part of Government’s alignment with the Constitution which defines a child as someone aged 18 years and below.

This was said by Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Dr Jenfan Muswere, while delivering a post-Cabinet briefing yesterday.

He said the Bill, which was presented by Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi seeks to address the rights of children as enunciated by the Constitution.

“The nation is informed that Section 81 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe addresses the unique needs and the best interests of children in addition to rights and freedoms afforded to all citizens in the Bill of Rights,” said Dr Muswere.

Section 81(1) of the Constitution defines a child as every boy or girl under the age of 18 and further provides for freedom and protection of children from all forms of sexual exploitation,” said Dr Muswere.

Section 61 of the Criminal Law Codification Reform Act, under Part 111 of Chapter V (Sexual Crimes and Crimes Against Morality) defines a young person as a boy or girl under the age of 16.

Dr Muswere said the implications of Section 61 of the Criminal Law (Codification Reform) Act are that it creates a category of children, those between 16 and 18 years of age, in relation to sexual offences who do not enjoy the same protection as afforded to all children as intended by Section 81 of the Constitution that defines every boy or girl below the age of 18 as a child.

He said the proposed Bill will incorporate the constitutional definitions of a child and provisions on marriage.

“The amendment proposes that provisions be incorporated in the Act, which define the close in age gap between minors and/or an adolescent to avoid criminalising consenting minors or a minor and an adolescent whose age range cannot be considered predatory or exploitative.

“Consultations conducted recommended three years age difference for this purpose,” said Dr Muswere.

There will be a clause that removes discretional powers of a social worker of recommending the prosecution of one of the minors who have consensual sexual activity.

The amendment proposes that the discretion should lie with the Prosecutor-General who has the power to decline prosecution in criminal cases.

There will also be a clause that will protect children with disabilities and those with unique communication needs to eliminate predatory and exploitative sexual conduct.

Such provisions will include interpretation of such unique sign language that may aid in adducing evidence in court and not limiting sign language to official court sign language only as admissible.

Responding to questions, Minister Ziyambi said the Bill seeks to also comply with a High Court ruling which said a child must be someone whose age is 18 years old.

He said the Bill will outlaw marriage of people below the age of 18.

“What the Bill seeks to achieve is to harmonise all marriage laws. No marriage can be there if you are below the age of 18 years. What it means is that all the children are now covered,” said Minister Ziyambi.

Attorney General, Mrs Virginia Mabiza, said the Bill was guided by what was in the best interests of a child.

“The Bill is mainly concerned about what is in the best interest of a child,” she said.

The Bill, said Mrs Mabiza, will confer discretional powers on whether to prosecute two minors who would have been involved in consensual sexual activity given that the Constitution designates discretionary powers to prosecute on the Prosecutor General.

Dr Muswere said Cabinet had also approved principles of the Climate Change Management Bill which was presented by Environment, Climate and Wildlife Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu.

He said the Bill will provide for the national climate change response through integration of climate change mitigation and adaptation actions in development planning and budgeting processes.

“The proposed Bill will provide for the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, facilitate low carbon development technologies and carbon trading as well as putting in place measures to reduce the use of ozone-depleting substances,” he said.

It will also create obligations for the public and private sector stakeholders to collect, archive and share activity data that is used in the compilation of national greenhouse gas inventories, climate risk and vulnerability impacts.

Said Dr Muswere: “The Bill will also provide for the establishment of the Designated National Authority (DNA) and the National Climate Fund to support the implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation actions provided for in the National Climate Policy.

“The Fund will be financed by a percentage of the proceeds from carbon credits trading, the fiscus, and multilateral climate finance mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund among others.”

Responding to inquiries from journalists, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Barbara Rwodzi said Zimbabwe’s position on the use of fossil energy, emissions of gas and other related issues will be made known at the Conference of Parties (COP) to be held in Dubai.

“But what I can say it was agreed that developed countries should provide money for developing countries to stop using fossil fuel,” she said.

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