Age of consent raised to 18: Zimbabwe introduces harsher penalties for offenders

President ED Mnangagwa

It is now an offence to initiate or have any ƨǝxuɑl or indecent relations with anyone under the age of 18 in Zimbabwe, as the new age of consent of 18 is brought into statute law.

President Mnangagwa used his powers under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act yesterday to gazette as the Statutory Instrument 2 of 2024 the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) (Criminal Laws (Protection of Children and Young Persons)) Regulations, 2024.

While the age of consent for ƨǝxuɑl relations was set in statute law at 16, this was raised to 18 as a result of the Constitutional Court confirming that the minimum age for marriage set at 18 in the Constitution also logically applied to the age of consent, so raising that to 18.

The opportunity has been taken to include acts that a reasonable person would see as an indecent act, and to make it clear that even asking a person under 18 to take part in ƨǝxuɑl or indecent acts is an offence.

The penalties are set at level 12 fines or a maximum of 10 years jail.

The regulations make it clear that ƨǝxuɑl relations with a person under 12 are defined as rɑpe if the child is a girl or aggravated indecent assault if it is a boy, where the penalties are far higher with lengthy jail terms being the norm.

The one acceptable defence for someone having ƨǝxuɑl relations with a person under 18 remains being able to show that the person had reasonable grounds to believe the person was over 18, but simple appearances of physical or ƨǝxuɑl maturity will not be accepted; there will have to be something better than just looks.

The new law largely formalises what has often been the case in the past when teenagers close in age get carried away.

If teenagers less than three years apart are involved in ƨǝxuɑl or indecent acts, or if it is a person under 18 and someone who is technically an adult but less than three years older, then prosecution can be waived.

Generally speaking, the authorities have in the past, and can now continue doing so, been more content to treat these breaches as needing counselling, rather than prosecution. However the full force of the law will be applied when an older person wants to get involved ƨǝxuɑlly with a teenager.

But since there can be special circumstances, the Prosecutor General retains the right to lay charges in a court even where the age gap is less than three years. Herald.

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