Efforts to streamline the age of consent with the constitution underway

Following the judgment in the case of Kawenda v Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, and others which ordered the lawmakers to come up with a law that aligns the age of sexual consent with the Constitution of Zimbabwe, a need arose for the age of consent to be aligned with the dictates of the constitution.

The Ministry of Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs (MoJLPA) in partnership with the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR) and UNICEF Zimbabwe held a two-day consultative meeting in Harare from the 18th to the 19th of August 2022 to spearhead the alignment of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act in relation to the age of sexual consent. This process is being supported by the Spotlight Initiative which seeks to end violence against women and girls.

The consultative meeting is a step toward the fulfillment of the Constitutional Court Directive (in the case of Kawenda v Ministry of Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs and others) ordered the lawmakers to align the current age of sexual consent with the Constitution.

The views from the diverse stakeholders who participated in this consultative meeting will culminate into a report that will form the basis of implementing the Constitutional Court Order.

Present at the consultative meeting were representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, National Prosecuting Authority, Victim Friendly Unity, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, Women and Law in Southern Africa, Justice for Children Trust, Legal Resource Foundation, Adult Rape Clinic, Zimbabwe NGO Forum,  Legal Practitioners, The Law Society of Zimbabwe and the media as well as other key stakeholders. This is part of the inclusive law-making process that has characterized the Zimbabwean jurisdiction.

A similar meeting was convened in Bulawayo (25 & 26 August 2022) to cover the Southern Region, with their input condensed into a report that the MoJLPA will refer to in its processes to ensure that the age of consent is in tantum with the dictates of the Constitution.

Unpacking the age of consent considering the constitutional judgment, Professor Feltoe elaborated on the need for stakeholders to come up with a law that is effective and enforceable. He also elaborated on the nature of offenses that will be dealt with under the age of consent statutes.

Discussed among other things was the issue of rape cases; National Prosecuting Authorities implored stakeholders to be mindful that rape cases are usually within the family unit or amongst neighbors and in communities, and it is crucial to have a law that tries to make it easy for the victims to speak up. The Police Victim Friendly Unit also echoed this, they alluded that most of the cases do not surface because of the family dynamics like breadwinners being the culprits and the victims and immediate family members fear losing the person who is responsible for their economic upkeep, therefore the proposed law has to cover these realities ensuring apt justice to the victims.

Invited child legislators put it to the house that in coming up with this law, parents and guardians need to appreciate that they are dealing with tech-savvy children, children who are exposed to a lot of content including pornographic material, and there is a need to use modern ways to curb the wayward children including having grounding and having restrictions on access to mobile phones and other digital devices for a certain period until the child addresses their habit.

One of the outstanding issues that were unearthed in the deliberations was the need to come up with a protective framework to ensure accessibility to sexual reproductive health rights services by children  (SRHR).

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