Home » Human Rights » Nature Would Have Them Kids Before They Are Women [editorial]

On June 9, 2015, Zimbabwe woke up to news that the courts were trivialising child sex abuse by passing “lenient” sentences on offenders. In the report carried in both The Herald and our sister publication Chronicle, MDC lawmaker Mrs Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and lawyer Mr Alex Magaisa painted an unfortunate picture of how a mismatch between existing legislation and the Constitution has inaertently reduced the age of consent to 12 years from 16.

An avalanche of emotion subsequently poured out, and we totally agree that authorities should act on the matter expeditiously.

The present situation allows child offenders to violate children and then hide behind this banner of “consent”.

It is true that no amount of punishment will ever restore innocence to a deflowered minor.

It, however, brings a sense of closure and justice to the victim and their family if cases are handled with the warranted gravity.

In a biological sense, a child is a human between the stages of birth and puberty.

And in legal terms, this is a person below the age of majority.

Arguments for consent at 12 years are, therefore, killed off by the first definition.

Let us explore an adolescent for a moment.

Many a parent knows that this is one of the most challenging stages of parenting.

Our children are at their most volatile at this stage. Hardly tolerable, they are mainly driven by emotion as hormonal changes kick in.

One cannot, therefore, derive any meaning from entrusting such a person the responsibility to mind their own interests, especially where sexually matters.

The ultimate result is disaster!

Sections 64 (1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23, reads: “A person accused of engaging in sexual intercourse, anal sexual conduct with a young person above the age of twelve years but of or below the age of fourteen shall be charged with rape, aggravated indecent assault or indecent assault, as the case may be, and not with the sexual intercourse or performing an indecent act with a young person or sodomy, unless there is evidence that the young person was capable of giving consent to the sexual intercourse or other sexual conduct.”

Such an act spells disaster for young girls at the moment because the law does not give them sufficient protection when they find themselves in the hands of the merciless sexual predators.

The sentences they are giving are generally lenient, forcing some parents of sexual victims to opt for negotiations with the perpetrators outside the confines of the judiciary system.

Should that continue to happen, hundreds of victims of sexual abuse are less likely to report for fear of being let down by the judiciary system.

Until the Code is aligned with the Constitution, lawyers and magistrates will continue to use the existing statute, which states that the age of consent for girls for purposes of rape is 12.

Any age after that, the offender can get away with the offence, as long as they can prove that the girl was capable of consenting.

It is a fact that children are becoming sexually active earlier, some even as early as nine. However it remains the responsibility of the law to protect them from exploitation and from entering into early child marriages which are riddled with problems.

A 12-year-old can work for a living, but she still has to be protected from child labour, in the same way that a girl of the same age would need to be protected from abuse, even though she might have sexual inclinations.

Stakeholders should make concerted efforts in ending the continued sexual violation of young girls, by speeding up alignment of laws listed under the rubric of priority statutes

Ordinary people should feel that their welfare and that of their loved ones are at the centre of the judiciary system not on the fringe.

The protection of children cannot be delayed for any reason, particularly since the future of the nation rest on the mental, physical health or welfare of this generation.

Protecting young girls from abuse is a matter that requires thorough scrutiny and for society to look into itself, and be guided by its moral conscience.

As the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau put it, nature would have them children before they are man, if we invert this balance we produce a half-baked fruit, immature and flavourless.

Source : The Herald

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