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Feminists applaud new age of consent


WOMEN’s rights organisations have applauded last week’s Constitutional Court (ConCourt)  ruling, which reviewed the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 years, saying it came after 5 000 teenage girls fell pregnant between January and February 2021.

Statistics from the United Nations Population Fund state that Zimbabwe has a high adolescent fertility rate of 108 per 1 000 among young women aged 15 to 19.

Speaking at a meeting hosted by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Africa Trust country operations manager for sexual reproductive health and rights Hamida Ismail-Mauto said teen pregnancies in Zimbabwe had led to an increase in unsafe abortions and school dropouts.

“Reports have indicated that between January 2021 and February 2021, nearly 5 000 teenage girls in Zimbabwe became pregnant, and about 1 800 entered early marriages during the same period.

“The major culprit for teen pregnancies in Zimbabwe was the lacuna in the law pertaining to the legal age of consent to sex, which over the years left girls aged 16 vulnerable and at the mercy of paedophiles that enjoyed full protection of the law,” Ismail-Mauto said.

Young Women’s Forum representative Sibongile Soko hailed the ConCourt ruling saying:  “Without doubt, the court’s ruling is not only a fulfilment of these national, regional and international obligations, but also an answer to the gap of the law which seemingly condoned child pregnancy.”

“The ruling is, therefore, welcome as it sets the message clear that a child who cannot consent to marriage cannot consent to sex.”

Zimbabwe Blind Women Trust representative, Irene Sithole said girls with disabilities faced up to 10 times more sexual abuse and exploitation than girls without disabilities.

“The ruling is a milestone which also protects girls with disabilities from sexual exploitation. It’s common cause that perpetrators target girls with disabilities because of their limited physical mobility. Therefore, as girls with disabilities enter adolescence, there is high risk that they can experience sexual violence by lure or coerced means,” Sithole said.

The women’s organisations called on policymakers to review national legislation to ensure that sexual perpetrators are heavily punished.

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