Age of sexual consent under spotlight

By ZBC Reporter
THE issue of the legal age of sexual consent and provision of contraceptives to children under the age of 18 has once again hogged the limelight, with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health calling for amendments to the constitution and other laws.
Age of sexual consent is the stage at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity. The Age of consent laws serves as a means for regulating children and young people’s sexual activity and behaviour. But these laws do not, of course, guarantee that young people will remain abstinent in practice.
ZBC News this Tuesday witnessed an intense debate in Harare, which saw some parliamentarians and civil society groups calling for amendments to the constitution and other laws to accommodate the provision of contraceptives to those under the age of 18 and reduction of the age of sexual consent.
The legal age of sexual consent in Zimbabwe is 16 but reports note that 40% of girls and 24% of boys are sexually active before they are 18. Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act states that no girl under the age of 16 years and no boy under the age of 18 years shall contract a valid marriage without the consent of the minister.
Dr Ruth Labode, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health says as much as they have to protect children from sexual exploitation, there is need to strike a balance so that children are protected from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
She said the constitution should be amended to identify sections that hinder children below the age of consent to access sexual reproductive health (SRH).
The current laws in Zimbabwe, particularly the Public Health Act, restricts children under the age of 16 from accessing SRH services such as contraceptives and emergency family planning pills because they are below the age of consent.
However, parents interviewed by ZBC News in Harare on the subject are not comfortable with some of the suggestions tabled by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health.