Parliament is set to fast track promulgation of a law that criminalises sexual or indecent relations with a person below the age of 18 after it was enacted under Presidential Powers whose lifespan lasts for six months.
The National Assembly and Senate are set to resume sitting next month and are set to prioritise the enactment of amendments to the Criminal Laws (Protection of Children and Young Persons) a legal instrument that has already taken legal effect after President Mnangagwa invoked his powers to promulgate it.
Once enacted by Parliament, the law will form part of the country’s legal statute.
In an interview, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said Parliament will have to prioritise the Bill once it is gazetted when it resumes sitting.
“The reason we used Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act is that we wanted to close a gap that had been created. So we have a window within which to pass the law through Parliament and we have a six-month period,” said Minister Ziyambi.
Parliament is soon expected to gazette the Bill so that it is tabled before plenary for debate and will pass with or without amendments.
A fortnight ago, President Mnangagwa invoked his powers under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to gazette Statutory Instrument 2 of 2024, the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Criminal Laws (Protection of Children and Young Persons)) Regulations, 2024.
This effectively puts the age of consent to sexual relations at 18, consistent with the Constitution which sets the majority age at that level.
Initially the law of consent for sexual relations was set in statute law at 16, this was raised to 18 after the Constitutional Court ruled that the minimum age for marriage set at 18 in the Constitution also logically applied to the age of consent, so raising that to 18.
The opportunity has been taken to include acts that a reasonable person would see as an indecent act, and to make it clear that even asking a person under 18 to take part in sexual or indecent acts is an offence.
The penalties are set at level 12 fines or a maximum of 10 years jail.
The regulations make it clear that sexual relations with a person under 12 are defined as rape if the child is a girl or aggravated indecent assault if it is a boy, where the penalties are far higher with lengthy jail terms being the norm.
An acceptable defence for someone having sexual relations with a person under 18 remains being able to show that the person had reasonable grounds to believe the person was over 18, but simple appearances of physical or sexual maturity will not be accepted.
The new law is expected to end the menace where men would prey on young girls, particularly teenagers some of whom would be of school going age.
If teenagers less than three years apart are involved in sexual or indecent acts, or if it is a person under 18 and someone who is technically an adult but less than three years older, then prosecution can be waived.
Authorities have in the past, and can now continue doing so, been more content to treat these breaches as needing counselling, rather than prosecution.
However the full force of the law will be applied when an older person wants to get involved sexually with a teenager.
But since there can be special circumstances, the Prosecutor General retains the right to lay charges in a court even where the age gap is less than three years.
Zimbabweans have since welcomed the gazetting of the law which makes it an offence to initiate or have any sexual or indecent relations with anyone under the age of 18. – Herald