Zimbabwe Commended for Raising Legal Consent Age for Sex

Cabinet in Zimbabwe on Tuesday 5 December 2023 approved principles to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill that will criminalise sexual activity with anyone below the age of 18 as the Government seeks to harmonise laws relating to age of consent. The Zimbabwe government raised the age of sexual consent from sixteen to eighteen years on Monday 15 January 2024. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill criminalises child marriages and proposes a maximum penalty of up to ten years in prison for violators who permit, aids or coerces a minor into marriage. At times parents are tempted to marry the child off to a rich old man hence a deterrent sentence of up to ten years in prison will go a long way in curbing child marriages.

While the Constitution defines children as those below the age of 18, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act defined a young child as one who is below 16 years, thereby creating a gap in the law which would possibly expose children above sixteen years to sexual exploitation. Raising the age of consent from sixteen year to eighteen years is also part of the Government’s alignment with the Constitution which defines a child as someone aged below eighteen years.

INERELA+ hailed the development as this protects the rights of young girls against abuse. Children are not able to make decisions such as whether or not to marry. The change in legislation has come to complement the amendment to the Marriages Act that prohibits the marriage of anyone less than age of eighteen years old. Fifteen million girls marry before the age of eighteen years each year the equivalent of one girl in every two seconds. As INERELA+ we see the two legislations as critical legal instruments that will come towards ensuring that our children, especially adolescent girls are safe and protected.

We were disgruntled in instances where we would see perpetrators’ penalties that were not favourable, some of them were being given community service while the girl would have to deal with key issues that affected their health. A lot of girls would go for backyard abortions while others struggled with their mental health. Some girls had to drop out of school after becoming pregnant as most learning institutions in Zimbabwe do not accept expecting mothers as students.

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