Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
The upsurge in sexual assaults and rape of minors by their guardians is a sad development that should not be allowed to continue.
In the last few weeks, the nation has been inundated with shocking stories of rape of young girls committed in various circumstances, perpetuating all forms of violence against the young and vulnerable.
Several reported cases before the courts were allegedly perpetrated by law enforcement agents, relatives and guardians who were mandated to care for the very same people they are alleged to have abused.
A top cop is currently before Harare courts for allegedly raping his late sister’s daughter.
Coincidentally, the top cop is a guardian to the 17-year-old alleged rape victim, who was left in his care following the death of her mother.
In a similar case, Zimbabwe National Army Lieutenant-Colonel Rangarirai Kembo (45) appeared before the same magistrate court on allegations of raping a 19-year-old woman, while a Mutare court recently jailed a cop for assaulting his niece, who was under his guardianship.
Though some argue that rape is a global phenomenon, what is appalling with our situation is the impunity of the perpetrators, their proximity to the victims, the lackadaisical attitudes of some of justice wings and the absence of support system for the victims.
What is even disheartening is the fact the sexual assault of minors by the people they should look up to is not an overnight problem, but has often been laid bare in different forums, with community leaders and legislatures being fingered in these abuses.
A Parliamentary committee last year revealed that some Government officials including Members of Parliament and other high ranking individuals were among the biggest sexual predators targeting minors.
During hearings conducted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development in Mashonaland Central, legislators, community leaders and other high ranking individuals were fingered in these nefarious activities as the biggest culprits.
In one of the consultative meetings, a 15-year old girl gave a heartrending account of how she was raped by her stepfather and eventually got pregnant.
The majority of the people who attended these meetings could not fathom how community leaders could commit such heinous crimes on the people they were supposed to protect.
This culture of impunity is not confined to Mashonaland Central but is experienced in other parts of the country.
Zimstats (2012) Census in says there are more than 1,5 million girls today, a powerful constituency for transforming the country and take it to the next level. The girls who are in their various stages of lives are brimming with ingenuity, creativity and confidence.
But their potential and dreams may come to naught if a myriad challenges standing in their way, among them sexual violation, are not addressed.
The nation is falling into a moral abyss, tearing apart the moral fabric of ubuntu.
Rather than families relying on the extended family to keep an eye on the girl child, the shepherds entrusted to watch over the sheep are devouring the herd.
Even when the alleged abusers are arrested, what is worrying is that the majority of the perpetrators or suspected rapists are thrown back into the society after serving light sentences.
When that happens, instead of allowing justice to take its course, the affected family often influences the outcome of the case, interfering with investigations and in some instances threatening the victim with unspecified action, when they should be protecting her.
In a society that covers up incest and other abuses, the country could actually be battling with a bigger problem than the reported cases.
With a judgmental mentality slowly permeating our communities, it would not be surprising to note that there are a lot of young girls who are living with the scars of rape and never reported their experiences for fear of reprisals.
Instead of addressing the problem of sexual assaults, communities continue to preach messages of accountability and blame to women – messages which young girls absorb from a tender age and grow up with it.
They grow up with ingrained guilt, shame and stigma because they were socialised into believing that no-one is raped without having invited rape on themselves.
Such questions like “What was she wearing,” or “Where was she raped?” often confront the rape victim, before the matter is reported or given due attention because of the ingrained belief that rape victims — no matter how young or old — must have somehow “enticed” the abuser.
At the rate at which young girls are being sexually assaulted, especially by those who should be protecting them, the world is no longer safe.
The legislature would now need to work round the clock and ensure that mandatory sentencing for those who defile minors is expedited to save them from further abuse.
Government’s proposed 60-year imprisonment for those found guilty of raping minors and the disabled is a welcome move that should address the growing problem of rape in Zimbabwe.
It will send a clear message that the nation will not tolerate sexual perverts to roam the streets, wantonly abusing the vulnerable and getting away with lenient sentences.
Already there are best practices in the region, where mandatory sentencing has proved to be a way of reducing serious crimes.
Neighbouring South Africa is among the countries that are benefiting from mandatory sentencing after it took a decision to come up with several such legislations in 1998, under its Criminal Law Amendment Act.
They were initially created for two years, but remained in effect after it was established that they could reduce crime.
South African law provides minimum sentences of imprisonment for relatively a small range of serious offences including murder, rape and robbery.
The least severe mandatory sentence is 15 years imprisonment, rising to 20 and 25 years for offenders with previous convictions for the same offence.
At the rate at which girls and other vulnerable groups in Zimbabwe are being violated, legislators and other stakeholders will need to push for mandatory sentencing to stop further violations of girls and other vulnerable groups.