Concern over sexual consent age

MDC Matabeleland South legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga

HARARE – While the move to enact a Bill enforcing punitive mandatory sentencing for rapists and sexual abuse perpetrators has been widely embraced, legislators have raised concern over its inability to address the issue of the age of sexual consent, which stakeholders argue is crucial in curbing rising rape cases of minors.

This comes as Information minister Chris Mushowe has proposed a mandatory 60-year jail sentence for those found guilty of rape and sexual abuse, amid rising cases of the offences.

According to vocal MDC Matabeleland South legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, “having sex with a child younger than 12 is automatically rape but if you have consented sex with one between the ages of 12 and 18 it is statutory rape”.

Although President Robert Mugabe last week said the Rape and Sexual Abuse Bill will deter prospect rapists from perpetrating the crimes, some legislators worry that it will be ineffective without addressing concerns over the 12 years age of sexual consent, which they feel is too young

Speaking at the opening of the fifth session of the eighth Parliament last Tuesday, President Robert Mugabe said: “Our society continues to be appalled by the rising incidence of rape. I, therefore, call upon all families, churches, schools, politicians and the traditional leadership to fight against this grossly decadent practice”.

“On its part, government will bring to this Parliament, the mandatory sentencing for Rape and Sexual Abuse Bill, which provides for more deterrent measures against the perpetrators of this revulsive crime,” he said.

However, Misihairabwi-Mushonga is sceptical of the Bill, arguing that they will only welcome it after noting how it addresses issues of sexual consent.

She said “in principle we are happy with the Bill because there wasn’t any mandatory sentencing for rape. That is why we have been comparing rape sentences to stock theft where there is one”.

In Zimbabwe, stock theft has a mandatory nine-year sentence.

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said “the thing that we need to deal with is the age of consent, if that is not addressed then we will still have problems. As it is, the age of consent is 12 and we might end up seeing rape perpetrators get away with lesser sentences so we need to change the age of consent and raise it to 18 or at least 16,” she said.