The Sunday News
Lincoln Towindo, Harare Bureau
Government is reviewing a proposed 60-year jail term for criminals who rape minors and the disabled after Cabinet ministers expressed reservations over its severity.
In 2017, authorities undertook to impose the sentence in cases involving victims under 12 years old and the physically-challenged, with sodomy and other rapes attracting a 40-year term.
This followed an alarming surge in sexual violence that saw roughly 325 girls (mainly aged between 11 and 15) being raped every month in 2016.
Secretary for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mrs Virginia Mabhiza told our Harare Bureau last week: “We worked on a draft Bill that was taken to Cabinet for approval. I understand that some Cabinet members expressed reservations over the issue of the severity of the 60-year mandatory imprisonment for raping a minor.
“Some ministers felt that the proposed sentence was too harsh and there was a need for it to be reviewed. The Bill was then sent back to the Attorney-General so that the issue can be revised.
“It was agreed that the sentence should be deterrent, but, at the same time, should not be too harsh to the extent of having a mandatory 60-year jail term. The draft is back with the AG now, and we hope it will be accepted when it is eventually taken back to Cabinet.”
Children’s rights activist Mrs Virginia Muwanigwa said while lengthy jail terms are not ultimate solutions, authorities should be wary “of sending the wrong message”.
“A long prison sentence for a rapist can never compare with the pain and trauma the victim suffers, especially in the case of children. Punitive sentences have never been enough to completely deter commission of crimes. A case in point is when we had the death sentence for murder.
“We need to be serious and concentrate on efforts to prevent the crime from taking place in the first place. However, the move to rescind the proposed law will send the wrong message out there.
“It may give the impression that Government is not really concerned about the situation and is probably not affording it the seriousness it warrants.”