The Sunday News
Lincoln Towindo, Harare Bureau
PAEDOPHILES convicted of raping minors under the age of 12 years could soon face up to 60 years in jail under a new law that will be enacted to arrest rising incidences of child sexual abuse.
The Mandatory Sentencing for Rape and Sexual Offences Bill, which is presently in the works, will also prescribe a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for raping disabled persons. The Bill, which was put on the legislative agenda by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is expected to be taken to Parliament during the current session.
It is envisaged that the new law – prompted by the prevalence of sexual violence cases against minors, the disabled and the elderly – would result in different mandatory sentences, including for the transmission of HIV through rape.
An initial proposal to impose life sentences for rape was reportedly turned down by Cabinet for being too steep.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza told our Harare Bureau that the law is in line with regional best practice.
She also said consultations on the new law are being led by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development.
“The law is basically to amend sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act),” said Mrs Mabhiza.
“The law was first muted under the previous Government and we did the drafting, where a mandatory sentence of life in jail for raping a minor was proposed.
“This was, however, turned down as they felt the punishment was too severe and unjust.
“Under the New Dispensation, we have revived the proposal to introduce the law.”
The tentative proposal for a 60-year mandatory sentence is still under consideration, she said.
But there are broad issues that will also be addressed by the new law.
Mrs Mabhiza said: “The Bill will address not only mandatory sentences for rape and other sexual offences, it will deal with the issue of age of consent because as much as the Constitution is very clear that a child is anyone below 18 years of age, there were a lot of views regarding the issue of consent, so there were consultations around that issue as well.
“There is also the issue of statutory rape: that of having sexual relations with an underage child; they were trying to review that as well.”
The Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (Chapter 9: 23) considers sex with a minor below the age of 16 years as rape.
And such offences have been on the rise in recent years, particularly the rape of minors below the age of 12 years.
In 2017, police said about 325 girls – mostly between the ages of 11 years and 15 years – were raped every month, translating to 11 rape cases daily.
Further, rape was the third most common offence last year after traffic violations and fraud, according to latest figures from the Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (Zimstat).
However, the 7 110 cases recorded in 2018 represent a marginal drop from the 7 394 cases recorded a year earlier.
While some consider a 25-year jail term for sexually abusing disabled persons to be deterrent enough, some activists believe that an even steeper sentence will suffice.
National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe president Ms Farai Cherera said perverts tend to take advantage of the disabled, and, therefore, there was need to increase the mandatory sentence to more than 65 years, particularly for abusing disabled minors.
“Women and young girls living with disabilities have been the target of sexual abuse, especially in rural areas,” she said.
“The move is commendable. However, I think the 25-year sentence for raping a minor with disability is not enough. “Government should relook at the sentence and maybe raise it to the mandatory 60 years, or even add an additional five years to make it 65 years for those who rape disabled minors.”
But this view is not shared by some organisations, which believe that the proposed prescribed mandatory sentences will satisfactorily deal with the scourge.
There is, however, consensus that no matter how steep the penalties might be, they may not help abused victims to sufficiently recover.
Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network chairperson Ms Pamela Mhlanga welcomed the proposals as deterrent enough.
“This is something we have been advocating for some time now. Once a young girl is raped, at times it is hard for them to recover from the trauma. The mandatory sentence is set to go a long way in deterring and setting an example to other rapists,” she said.