Young woman recounts terror of father’s sexual abuse Zimbabwe has witnessed close to 350 000 teen pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 19 over three years.

Ivan Zhakata-Features Correspondent

She was only 15, with no one to tell her story because her father was the breadwinner.

Now she is carrying her father’s child. 

Rudo, (not her real name) from Dema village in Seke, is now not sure if she can call her biological father her husband or father as she sired a child with him.

 She is also confused on what she will call the child, son or brother, since her father is the same father of her offspring.

In a recent engagement with Rudo at a panel discussion on teenage pregnancies held by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists in Harare, the young lady recounted how she was a victim of circumstances until she sired a child with her father.

She said her father took advantage of her while her mother had gone to Chitungwiza Hospital to get birth records for her siblings.

“What happened was my mother had gone to Chitungwiza to get birth records for my siblings,” she said. 

“While my mother was away, my father called her to enquire whether she had succeeded in getting the documents. 

“My mother said she was told to come back to the hospital the following day and was advised to save money and stay in Chitungwiza until she collected the birth records.

“As I was preparing food for my siblings, my father sent a message requesting me to come for prayers after feeding the children. He then called me into the bedroom and said he had not called me for prayers, but he wanted to tell me something.”

Rudo said she sat on the bed and her father told her that he had another wife in Bulawayo where he worked and her mother was refusing to let the woman come and stay with them.

She said she told him to do what he thought was best before he told her that was not the only issue he wanted to discuss with her. 

“He then asked me if, while I was on holiday, there was any boy who had been intimate with me and took my virginity,” Rudo said.

“I told him that I had never been intimate with anyone and he insisted on checking if I was telling the truth. I asked him why he wanted to do that and he switched on the radio and increased the volume before raping me.”

Rudo said the following day, her father threatened her and said he would commit suicide if she told anyone about the rape incident.

Rudo concealed the case as she was afraid of her father.

“The matter came to light after we went to fetch firewood and my mother noticed that something was wrong with me,” she said. “She asked questions and I told her the truth. I was taken to the hospital where it was revealed that I was pregnant. I gave birth to a baby boy and the matter was not reported to the police.”

Ms Dadirai Yakobi, the Girls’ Protection and Support Services senior officer and counsellor at Shamwari Yemwanasikana said they protected women and the girl child from all forms of abuse despite their backgrounds.

“We stand for the rights of all women and girls in various communities across the country,” she said. “We want all girls and women to know where to report when they are involved in all forms of sexual abuse. 

“We also help, through referral pathways which is to take them to the police and other arms of the Government to ensure that justice is served.”

The executive director for Mwanasikana Wanhasi, Ms Opportunity Makanga, said they mainly look at the rights of women and girls as well as their empowerment in terms of teenage pregnancies.

“We look at them (women and girls) because they are the ones who suffer the most in communities,” she said. “We have seen that there is an issue of looking down upon women and girls and they are the ones who suffer domestic violence.”

Highlighting the vulnerability of girls in farming communities, Ms Shamiso Mutape, information and advocacy officer at Farming Community Educational Trust, attributed the surge in teenage pregnancies to the economic challenges in these areas.

“Consequently, many girls, due to idleness and lack of opportunities, find themselves engaged in sexual activities, leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies,” she said.

Zimbabwe has witnessed close to 350 000 teen pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 19 over three years, according to Mr Blessing Nyagumbo, the adolescent sexual health reproductive specialist at the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).

Mr Nyagumbo revealed this concerning statistic is from 2019 to 2022, underscoring the urgent need for collaborative efforts to address the root causes of teenage pregnancies in the country.

It is now an offence to initiate or have any sexual or indecent relations with anyone under the age of 18 in Zimbabwe, as the new age of consent of 18 is brought into statute law.

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

While the age of consent for sexual relations was set in statute law at 16, this was raised to 18 as a result of the Constitutional Court confirming that the minimum age for marriage set at 18 in the Constitution also logically applied to the age of consent.

The opportunity has been taken to include acts that a reasonable person would see as an indecent act, and to make it clear that even asking a person under 18 to take part in sexual or indecent acts is an offence. 

The penalties are set at level 12 fines or a maximum of 10 years in jail. 

The regulations make it clear that sexual relations with a person under 12 are defined as rape if the child is a girl or aggravated indecent assault if it is a boy, where the penalties are far higher with lengthy jail terms being the norm.

The one acceptable defence for someone having sexual relations with a person under 18 remains being able to show that the person had reasonable grounds to believe the person was over 18, but simple appearances of physical or sexual maturity will not be accepted; there will have to be something better than just looks. 

The new law largely formalises what has often been the case in the past when teenagers close in age get carried away.

If teenagers less than three years apart are involved in sexual or indecent acts, or if it is a person under 18 and someone who is technically an adult but less than three years older, then prosecution can be waived.

Generally speaking, the authorities have in the past, and can now continue doing so, been more content to treat these breaches as needing counselling, rather than prosecution. 

However, the full force of the law will be applied when an older person wants to get involved sexually with a teenager.

But since there can be special circumstances, the Prosecutor General retains the right to lay charges in a court even where the age gap is less than three years.

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