BY LORRAINE MUROMO/TAFADZWA KACHIKO/PRIDE MUZARABANI
CHILD rights campaigners have welcomed a Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruling which revised the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18, saying much more needed to be done to protect girls from paedophiles.
On Tuesday, the ConCourt ruled in favor of two Harare women who had challenged the age of 16 for sexual consent, saying it violated their rights.
“We need to educate children, parents and the community about the decision and address the factors that may influence children to have sex voluntarily,” said child rights lawyer Caleb Mtandwa.
The ConCourt ruling follows an outcry over child marriages following the death of 15-year-old Anna Machaya while giving birth at a shrine in the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church last year.
Her alleged husband was later arrested for rape.
Shamwari Yemwanasikana’s advocacy and research coordinator, Rudo Magwanyata, described the ConCourt decision as a milestone in upholding girls’ rights.
“The ruling is a call for full enforcement and tough penalties for those on the wrong side of the law. We continue to call for the full protection of girls. In the event that a girl becomes pregnant after being abused, there is a need for the courts to expedite these cases and allow termination of these pregnancies,” Magwanyata said.
“Communities play a central role in influencing the decrease in child marriage. There is a need for communities to have discussions about how adolescents became sexually active and how communities can help end child marriages. teenage pregnancies,” Shamwari Yemwanasikana said in a statement.
Reports say the country recorded around 5,000 teenage child marriages in January and February and around 1,800 during the same period last year.
“It is morally unacceptable for anyone to be pregnant at such a young age, however, it is discouraging for communities to treat pregnant teenagers as outcasts. These are young girls who have made ill-informed decisions and who carry with them the proof of a pregnancy. They should be supported in every way possible,” the child rights organization added.
The Institute for Young Women’s Development said: “This goes a long way to protecting children’s rights and guarding against past confusion that has predisposed children to a plethora of challenges including teenage pregnancy, violence between intimate partners and child marriage, which is the ultimate enemy of the violation of children’s rights.”
Qiniso Ndlovu, provincial coordinator of the Union for the Development of Apostolic and Zionist Churches, Matabeleland South, said his organization was committed to dealing with cases of sexual abuse and early marriage.
In 2016, the ConCourt banned child marriages after two former child brides appealed for a change to the Marriage Act which stated that a 16-year-old child could marry with parental consent.
According to the Research and Advocacy Unit, 31% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before age 18 and 4% by age 15.
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