By Maxwell Sibanda
Government’s move to impose a tougher 60-year jail term for rapists has been hailed across the political divide, though observers said more needs to be done in avoiding the crimes rather than censuring the perpetrators.
The proposed stiffer sentence comes as rape cases have worryingly escalated in Zimbabwe’s society, with children as young as six months falling victim.
About a fortnight ago, government proposed a 60-year jail term for those found guilty of raping minors below 12 years of age and the disabled.
In a statement announcing Cabinet’s position on the matter, Information minister, Christopher Mushowe, said the proposal to amend the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) [Chapter 9:33] was crafted in response to public outcry over the rising cases of sexual harassment.
“Following widespread concerns over rising of the heinous crime of sexual violence or rape, Cabinet considered a proposal on the above matter and resolved to come up with more deterrent measures to stamp out the crime,” he said.
“Accordingly, government resolved as follows: (a) that a sentence of 60 years of imprisonment be imposed for cases of rape of minors under 12 years of age and the disabled; and (b) that a sentence of 40 years of imprisonment be imposed for the rest of the cases of rape or sodomy.
Last year, police said 325 girls were raped in the country every month.
In reaction to the proposed punitive 60-year jail sentence for rapists, legislator Jessie Majome said the move will go a long way in addressing the high rate of gender-based violence against women and the girl-child in Zimbabwe.
“As the legislator who pushed for it via my gender-based violence (GBV) motion back in 2014, I am glad that (Vice President Emmerson) Mnangagwa has come through with his undertaking in response to my motion.
“I’m glad he has gone beyond the 30 years I had asked for as a mandatory minimum sentence. It is wonderful to see the Executive keeping its word in response to actual needs and problems that affect people.
“The VP and the Women Affairs minister are a stark contrast to their colleague ministers. Not only did they respond, but are actually now acting on it,” she said, adding that “my motion was the oldest now on the order paper, pending since 2014”.
Majome futher said that when she made the motion she had been concerned by the low rate of apprehension, conviction and sentencing of perpetrators of GBV.
“Also of concern was the absence and lack of crime forensic experts in Zimbabwe, as well as the lack of forensic rape investigation kits.”
The legislator said in her debate she drew attention to the corresponding need to amend the Magistrates Court Act to “raise the sentencing jurisdiction of Regional Magistrates from 25 years for rape and serious GBV or amend the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to compel magistrates who have convicted for rape and serious GBV to refer the convict to the High Court for sentencing”.
“That is what I did want included on the principles as well as referral of the survivors for psychosocial support, and the review of all other sentences for GBV with the 60 years as a benchmark.”
Majome is not alone in supporting the stiffer penalty.
Plan International gender advisor, Tholakele Ndlovu, said the proposed tougher sentence for rapists is a positive step towards protection of the vulnerable groups.
“If implemented, this will definitely deter would be perpetrators from committing the offence. However, this is not the only intervention that will protect the minors and persons with disabilities from abuse.
“There is need to have a holistic approach which includes social mobilisation towards protection of these groups by families, community members including their leadership (both the traditional and religious).
“This will ensure that these cadres who are the first line of defence will put community-based child protection mechanisms which are relevant to their context,” Ndlovu said.
The gender advisor added that these marginalised groups should also be sensitised on the kind of services that are available and how to access them. “On the other hand, it is key to strengthen service delivery for the survivors of abuse so that in an unfortunate case where the child or disabled is abused, they can easily assess the services and justice so that the perpetrators are brought to book and justice is done.”
Human rights commentator Vivid Gwede said: “The raping of minors is a disturbing and inexcusable crime in our society. I agree with stiffer and proportionate penalties, and believe that this is also more than just a legal matter.
“We need to increase the safety of children generally and raise more awareness. Since prevention is better than cure, the focus should be on making sure the barbaric act does not happen, beyond amply censuring the perpetrators. This is where a mental battle must be fought, including demystifying certain esoteric beliefs within our society.” Daily News