CHILD rights activists have welcomed a Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruling that reviewed the age of se_xual consent from 16 to 18, saying a lot more needed to be done to protect the girl child from paedophiles.
On Tuesday, the ConCourt ruled in favour of two Harare women who had challenged the 16 years age of se_xual consent, saying it violated their rights.
“We should raise awareness with the children, the parents and the community on the ruling and deal with factors which may cause children to willingly engage in se_xual intercourse,” 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 Johanne Marange Apostolic Church shrine last year.
Her alleged husband was later arrested on rape charges.
Shamwari Yemwanasikana advocacy and research co-ordinator Rudo Magwanyata described the ConCourt ruling as a milestone in advocating for the rights of the girl child.
“The judgment is a call for full enforcement and harsh punishments for those found on the wrong side of the law. We continue to call for the full protection of girls. In the event that a girl gets pre_gnant after being abused, there is need for the courts to speed up such cases and allow termination of these preg_nancies,” Magwanyata said.
“Communities play a pivotal role in influencing a decrease in child marriages. There is need for communities to have discussions on how teenagers have become se_xually active and ways in which communities can assist in ending teenage pregnancies,” Shamwari Yemwanasikana said in a statement.
Reports said the country recorded an estimated 5 000 teenage early marriages in January and February and about 1 800 entered during the same period last year.
“It is morally unacceptable for one to be pregnant at such a young age, however, it is disheartening for communities to treat teenagers who are pregnant like outcasts. These are young girls who made uninformed decisions and carry the evidence of pregnancy with them. They need to be supported in every way possible,” the child rights organisation added.
Institute for Young Women’s Development said: “This goes a long way in protecting children’s rights and guarding against the past confusion which predisposed children to a plethora of challenges which include adolescent pregnancies, intimate partner violence and child marriages which is the ultimate enemy violating children’s rights.”
The Union for Development of Apostolic and Zionist Churches, Matabeleland South provincial co-ordinator Qiniso Ndlovu said his organisation was committed to addressing cases of sexual abuse and early marriages.
In 2016, the ConCourt outlawed child marriages after two former child brides appealed for the amendment of the Marriage Act which stated that a 16-year-old child could get married with parental consent.
According to the Research and Advocacy Unit, 31% of girls in Zimbabwe are married before 18 years and 4% at 15 years.