Northern Region Stakeholder consultative workshop on Mandatory Sentencing for Rape and Sexual Offences

Ministry of Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs (MoJLPA) working with UN Women Zimbabwe and the Centre for Applied Legal Research held a northern region stakeholder consultative workshop on the Amendment of the Criminal Law (Codification Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] on Mandatory Sentencing for Rape and Sexual Offences from the 12th to 13th of September 2019.

Mr Manhiri, the Acting Director of Ministry of Justice’s Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs Department pointed out that participation by all key stakeholders was vital to contribute to the ongoing discussions about mandatory sentencing for sexual offences.

A representative from the Ministry of Justice, Mrs Salome Chihuri gave some insights on principles on minimum mandatory sentences for sexual offences that were approved by Cabinet.

She highlighted that in 2017 an Inter-Ministerial Committee on rape & sexual offences was set up by the Government of Zimbabwe. The Committee’s task was to tackle the prevailing rate of rape and sexual offences. The Committee noted that there are inadequate sentences for serious cases like rape & aggravated indecent assault and a recommendation was made to consider harsher sentences. Further, the Committee noted that the existing sentences were not deterrent.

Professor Feltoe, a criminal law expert presented his paper on mandatory sentencing and reminded stakeholders to be mindful of underlying factors that need to be identified before coming up with mandatory sentences. He highlighted the need to eradicate the rape culture in Zimbabwe and confront issues that relate to patriarchy, erroneous male attitudes, child marriages, cultural practices. He pointed that it was important to deal with such factors in the fight against rape and sexual offences.

He further noted that there is need for proper sentencing guidelines owing to the fact that mandatory sentences were not deterrent according to studies in many jurisdictions. He also stated that the current sentencing patterns reflect that some sentences were too lenient considering the emotional and psychological harm that victims go through. Hence, there was a need to develop proper sentencing guidelines. Prof. Feltoe also told stakeholders that presiding officers were not in favour of mandatory sentences since they limit their discretion in metering appropriate sentences for cases brought before them. A study that was done by one of the stakeholder organizations that attended the workshop revealed that there were varying sentences even in cases that involved commission of the same offence and under almost similar circumstances.

The northern region consultations sought to solicit stakeholders’ input on the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code in relation to sexual offences.

Stakeholders highlighted the need to have stiffer penalties to deter the commission of rape and other sexual offences. However, other stakeholders indicated that it was important to also consider victim support mechanism designed to assist victims to cope with the trauma associated with being sexually violated.  Stakeholders also noted that mandatory sentences had several advantages that include (removing personal bias and consistency). However, they also recognized that it could flood prisons with convicts.

A representative from National Prosecuting Authority pointed that all stakeholders who deal with rape and other sexual offences should be capacitated.

A call was made to have heavier sentences to sexual perpetrators who take advantage of society’s most vulnerable groups such as people living with disabilities, the elderly and young children.