Law on sex offenders hailed Ms Ekenia Chifamba

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Reporter

Zimbabweans have welcomed the gazetting of the law which makes it an offence to initiate or have any sexual or indecent relations with anyone under the age of 18.

President Mnangagwa last week used his powers under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to gazette Statutory Instrument 2 of 2024, the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Criminal Laws (Protection of Children and Young Persons)) Regulations, 2024.

This effectively puts the age of consent to sexual relations at 18.

Shamwari Yemwanasikana director Ms Ekenia Chifamba said the law was coming in to close the gaps that had existed in the protection of young women and girls and would go a long way in improving their lives.

“As an organisation that focuses on the full development and emancipation of girls in Zimbabwe, we are elated by the decision made by the highest office in the land to ensure that the age of consent gap is addressed and that perpetrators are brought to book accordingly.

“Of course we have been safeguarded for some time through the Constitution, the Marriage Act and the Children’s Rights Act but there have been some gaps which were allowing a lot of paedophiles to enjoy impunity and continue to harass and violate the rights of young women and girls.

“The arm of the law would also be restricted to address such issues so now we know that there shall be no defence to prove that the girl consented to sexual intercourse,” she said.

She, however said, while the law was protecting the children, there was a need for an all stakeholder approach where the community, churches and families worked together to ensure that the law took its course.

“We hope this will be carried to churches and that these churches will be regulated to protect our young women and girls in their places of worship. We also hope that communities and parents and guardians in the home will also take it up because a lot of abuse happens there as well and in schools,” said Ms Chifamba.

Twins Association of Zimbabwe co-founder Mr Tendai Katonha said the new law had been long overdue.

“We have been seeing problems even in the courts where the age of consent was at 16 and the age of consent to marriage in the Constitution under Section 78 sub-section 1 was at 18. This discordance had opened up the girl child to exploitation. This law now protects both our girls and boys under the age of 18,” he said.

He said the law would particularly work in areas where young girls were being married off to older men under the disguise of religious practices.

Parents have also come out to support the enactment of the law which they said would give children a chance to remain children until they could make decisions on their own.

Said Ms Hazel Gumbo: “This law will really help in reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies we have been recording as a country. If you look back, for the past years, we have seen more young girls who fall pregnant after being in a relationship with an older man and these cases usually had a ripple effect. They led to an increase in cases of suicide because children who have early sexual debuts suffer from depression and end up taking their lives. So I believe this might result in a reduction in the cases of depression among the young girls, especially those who are forced into intergenerational relationships or marriages.”

Another parent Ms Pfumbidzeni Wapendama said it was high time people who took advantage of children faced the wrath of the law. “If they are to be sent away for 10 years, they will definitely think twice before engaging in sexual intercourse with children. It would have been much better if the penalty was much higher because these people are robbing children of their future,” she said.

“A child below the age of 18 can never be able to make decisions that adults can, they can be easily persuaded by small things. So this law will definitely protect our children. It is now up to us as parents to make sure we report such cases so that justice can be served,” said Ms Mercy Takabika.

Mrs Fatima Salabeni said most girls who got married early had unhappy marriages that usually ended in regret as they often realise that they should have remained in school and had a better life.

However, Women’s Action Group executive director Mrs Edinah Masiyiwa said while the law was a step in the right direction, it needed to be complemented by a change in the behaviours of Zimbabweans.

“It is good that we are closing the gap which existed in the law but the reality we have is that we have young children who are already sexually active. We need now to push for behavioural change where the adults consciously do not want have sexual relations with children and the children also make the decision not to engage. For the law to be enforced we need people to let children be children,” she added.

She said some people who were involved in such issues were not keen on reporting cases of child abuse while others had the resources to make sure the families of the victims kept quiet in some instances.

“So speaking from a moral point of view, we need to change our behaviour first because when the law is applied, the child would have already suffered and this is what we need to change,” she said.

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