The Sunday News
CRIMINALS convicted of rape or aggravated indecent assault will soon face minimum mandatory sentences of 15 years in jail under proposed amendments to the criminal code set to be enacted soon to arrest the rising number of sexual assault cases.
A sex offenders’ register is also being considered. Cabinet has approved amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to introduce stiff penalties for perpetrators of sexual violence. Rapists are now set to be sentenced to life imprisonment or “any definite period of imprisonment of not less than 15 years”.
Presently, the criminal code does not provide for a mandatory sentence for rape or aggravated indecent assault, which is defined as the sexual penetration of a victim, including men, without consent.
Official data shows an average 22 women filed rape cases daily between January 2020 and December 2021.
Police also claim more than 16 000 cases of rape were reported in the two years to December 2021, with 7 377 and 8 715 women reporting in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act considers performing sexual or anal intercourse with a female person without her consent as rape. As part of the ongoing reform programme, the authorities are also considering raising the statute of limitations — the time limit for filing charges against an alleged offender — for sexual offences to 40 years.
Section 23 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act presently sets the prescriptive period for reporting offences such as rape at 20 years. Plans are also underway to set up a sex offenders’ register to help monitor and control ex-convicts upon release from prison.
The Legal Aid Directorate in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs is being capacitated to provide free legal representation to those accused of rape and other offences to guard against substantial legal injustices such as wrongful convictions.
“Section 65 (“Rape”) (4) of the principal Act is amended by the repeal of paragraph (b) and the substitution of — (b) he knows that she has not consented to it or realises that there is a real risk or possibility that she may not have consented to it; shall be guilty of rape and liable to — if the crime was committed in aggravating circumstances, to life imprisonment or any definite period of imprisonment of not less than fifteen years; or if there are no aggravating circumstances, to life imprisonment or imprisonment for a period of not more than 15 years,” reads the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill exclusively obtained by our Harare Bureau.
Section 66 of the same Act will also be amended to provide for a 15-year mandatory sentence for aggravated indecent assault.
“For the avoidance of doubt if — the crime was committed in aggravating circumstances as described in Section 65 (2), the convicted person shall be sentenced to life imprisonment or any definite period of imprisonment of not less than fifteen years; or there are no aggravating circumstances, to life imprisonment or imprisonment for a period of not more than 15 years,” it adds.
In coming up with the new penalties, the authorities initially considered much stiffer mandatory penalties of up to 60 years but settled on a mandatory sentence less severe than those imposed on murderers. In a ministerial statement to Parliament earlier this year, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said a less severe penalty would deter the rapist from murdering their victim.
“The ministry acknowledges that the sentence for rape and sexual offences must fully reflect the depravity and seriousness of the crime. The idea of mandatory minimum sentences is to punish the offender sufficiently before they are brought back into mainstream society.”
Mandatory sentences, he added, were supposed to deter criminals and repeat offenders.
“The level of such a mandatory sentence must not, however, be the same as the mandatory sentence for murder in aggravating circumstances because the rapist might then be motivated to murder his victim after he has raped her.”
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care chairperson, Dr Ruth Labode, welcomed the proposed amendments.
“It is a welcome move, but we need to ensure that girls can access contraceptives, and we must not allow a nine-year-old to carry a pregnancy to full term. Such pregnancies must be terminated,” she said.
Once the Bill is passed into law, Zimbabwe will join several other African countries that prescribe mandatory sentences for rape. In South Africa, the Criminal Law Amendment Act provides for a 10-year mandatory sentence for first offenders, 15 years for repeat offenders and 20 years for committing the crime for the third time.
In Lesotho, the Sexual Offenders Act provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years in jail for sexual offences against a child, commercial sexual exploitation and sexual offences against disabled persons committed by a person aged above 18 years.
Kenyan law has a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years imprisonment for rape and five years for attempted rape. Zimbabwe is commemorating 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which are running under the global theme “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”.