MPs letting down under-age girls

NEWS that a 24-year-old Dzivarasekwa man, Blessing Mazhindu, who was caught red-handed having sex with his tenant’s 12-year-old daughter in the toilet in February, was only slapped with a five-year jail sentence last week of which two years were suspended, was received with great shock and displeasure by the public.

By Wongai Zhangazha

It emerged during trial that Mazhindu had sex with the girl several times before he was caught by the girls’ mother on February 7.

Despite sleeping with an under-age girl, Mazhindu will effectively serve three years in jail, hence anger from children’s rights activists. But in as much as some may say Mazhindu’s sentence was too lenient, another case which was reported by the media before going viral on the social media highlighted how some child abusers were literally going scot-free.

The case involves a 14-year-old Plumtree girl, now a mother of a five-month old baby. The girl demanded her virginity back, in court, from a 35-year-old man who impregnated her last year before disputing paternity of the child.

The girl is demanding US$100 maintenance from David Rwatiringa, who was sentenced to do community service for having sexual intercourse with the teenager.

The girl told Plumtree magistrate Gideon Ruvetsa that Rwatiringa should restore her virginity as he was the first man that she had slept with. Rwatiringa allegedly impregnated the girl early last year while she was in Grade Seven, forcing her to drop out of school. She told the court that she fell in love with Rwatiringa in October 2014 when she was in Grade 6. The minor also told the court she had sexual intercourse with Rwatiringa on several occasions in his car.

Rwatiringa admitted to have had sexual intercourse with her, but is alleging that she was also sleeping with several other men at the time.

Although the case was about maintenance, many Zimbabweans questioned why Rwatiringa got away with community service given that he had impregnated a minor, forcing her to drop out of school.

“In this case, this child is being let down by the system. It boggles the mind how Diva (Rwatiringa) got away with community service. How does that happen when the law is clear when it comes to minors? This case needs to be revisited. Grade 6, honestly, and the man is 35 years, and the magistrate gives him community service? Unbelievable! This is so wrong whichever way you look at it,” wrote one reader.

Debate on the age of sexual consent intensified from June last year after suspended Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana defended courts for refusing to jail child sex predators who could prove that there was consent to sex.

Section 70 of the Criminal Law and Reform Codification Act, which is currently in force, states that persons as young as 12 years are capable of consenting to sex. The law says persons below 12 years are incapable of giving consent and should one have sex with them there are charged with rape.

After Tomana’s sentiments, there was debate in Parliament over the age of consent with some legislators arguing it should be raised from 12 years to 16 years though some wanted it to be 18 years.

Issues to do with consent will be addressed in the General Laws Amendment Bill, which will certify 16 years as the age of consent, according to Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s statement in Parliament in October last year.

However, while government dilly-dallies with amendments, sexual predators and pedophiles like Mazhindu and Rwatiringa continue to get away with lenient sentences.

The snail’s pace with which government has moved to address concerns over the age of consent was brought into sharp focus by the lightning speed with which government amended the Labour Act.

In August last year government fast tracked labour law amendments to curb the rampant sacking of employees after more than 16 000 people lost their jobs following a Supreme Court ruling permitting employers to fire workers on three months’ notice.

Within that same month, President Robert Mugabe signed into law the labour amendment bill to repeal common-law provisions that the employers were now using, to the relief of the workers.

However, calls by the public and child rights activists to have the age of consent revised as a matter of urgency have fallen on deaf ears, despite a rise in child sexual abuse.

According to information provided by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, more than 100 girls are sexually abused everyday with 27% of the cases being perpetrated by neighbours and 41% of the cases by relatives.

The National Aids Council (Nac) Gender and Workplace department report covering 2014 and the first quarter of 2015 says 4 714 of girls younger than 16 years were raped in 2014, up from 3 297 recorded in 2013 and 3 168 in 2012.

The first quarter of 2015 recorded at least 1 319 cases of girl child abuse.

According to the statistics, the most vulnerable age group, are girls aged between 11 and 16 years.

National director of National Council for the Welfare of Children Taylor Nyanhete said that the age of consent to sexual intercourse still remained at 12 years until the laws have been changed and thus remained a concern.

Nyanhete said: “However, in our efforts to get it aligned there is a proposal that it be raised to 14 years or 16 years. The issue is that children nowadays are getting sexually active early. Whether we like it or not it’s happening. It’s a reality. So we need a benchmark on where the age of consent will start,” he said.

“The Ministry of Justice has not come up with a definite date when it will address this issue in parliament, but I think it should be in the Children’s Act which is still in draft form. We don’t see the urgency by government. If we are to look at the speed the labour act was amended. It was amazingly fast tracked. We just wish to see the same urgency on this matter and not a prioritisation of other issues. Government can do more.”

Harare West MP and gender activist Jessie Majome said she was not happy that the General Laws Amendment Bill in both houses sought to amend the Criminal Codification and Law Reform Act to set it at 14 years.

Majome said: “If you track the progress of the General Laws Amendment Bill in both houses you can see the current pairing. The Bill sought to amend the Criminal Codification and Law Reform Act to set it at 14 years to our chagrin.

One of the many amendments I proposed was to raise it to 18 years. I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that a 14-year-old is incapable of consenting to sex. In fact, no child (anyone below 18 years) is able to make a free and informed consent. That is why the Constitution set the age of marriage at 18 years. That is also why I have moved in Parliament for the government to devise an action plan for the 2012- 2015 Strategy on Gender-Based Violence.”