Age of consent should be raised to 18: Human rights lawyer

Garikai Mafirakureva

The Marriages Bill, which is currently being debated in Parliament has managed to define who is a child in Zimbabwe, but there is need to close the gap between the age of sexual consent and age of consent to marriage, according to human rights lawyer Lucy Chivasa.

Currently, Criminal Code section 70 criminalises having sex with a young person below the age of 16.

In an interview with NewsDay, Chivasa said the current legal position is failing to protect children who are above 16, but below 18 from sexual exploitation.

This will, as a result, force a child into early marriage.

She argued that if the age of consent is not raised to 18 years it will be a waste of time as efforts to protect children will be meaningless because they can be sexually abused at the age 16, but at the same time they cannot consent to marriage.

“It will, however, be a great thing if there is a stiff and stipulated penalty which is deterrent. I say so because the Domestic Violence Act already
criminalised child marriages, but it’s enforcement was difficult because Civil Marriage which was formerly Chapter 37 now Chapter 5.11 used to say girls over
16 can get married with parental or ministerial consent, hence my previous submission that all laws have to be aligned, not just the Marriages Bill,” Chivasa

“The good thing about the Marriages Bill which is currently debated is that it requires all marriages to be registered even customary marriages, so it is my
hope that people will not continue marrying children off since all marriages have to be registered.

“I also feel that the Criminal Code Section 70 should be aligned to the Constitution that defined a child as someone above the age of 18. The code allows
someone below 16 as one who can engage in willful sexual activities, but at the same time the Constitution which is the supreme law has a marriage provision
which spells out that people under 18 cannot consent to marriage and cannot be forced into marriage.”

Recently, Cabinet had to withdraw a clause in the Marriages Amendment Bill that provided for “civil partnership” saying such a union was alien and not
consistent with the country’s cultural and Christian values.

The controversial proposed new marriage law has been met with various interpretations and questions from various sectors of the community.

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