Court ruling on sexual age of consent welcomed

By John Nhandara

THE landmark Constitutional Court ruling that revised the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 years has been welcomed by child rights organisations in the face of increasing cases of child sexual exploitation.

The ruling revising the age of sexual consent has come as a huge source of relief with stakeholders describing it as a step in the right direction in the fight against child sexual exploitation.

“We now need to expedite enactment of laws that support this ruling for example minimum mandatory sentences for rape offenses,” said Ms Debra Mwase, programmes director for Katswe Sisterhood.

Child and women’s rights organisations say what is left is amendment of Section 70 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) to conform to the recent constitutional ruling and allow minimum mandatory sentences to be passed on sexual offenders.

“What it means is Section 70 is no longer part of our law. It needs to be amended to raise the age of consent. The judgement is in line with Section 78 of the constitution, which provides the age of marriage as 18,” said Justice for Children programmes manager, Mr John Mhlanga.

While unpacking implications of the constitutional court ruling, legal expert, Mr James Makiya said the previous age of sexual consent was contradictory to some of the country’s laws such as the age of legal majority.

“There are a lot of legal implications, but it is part of aligning some sections and provisions to the constitution. The ruling is applauded because at 16, one would not be that mature to make such kind of decisions,” he said.

Parliament has of late come under fire for failing to align laws that deal with children’s rights, with the nation having to wait for the judiciary.

While admitting Parliament’s shortcomings, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises, Honourable Chido Madiwa noted that the realignment of laws is a process.

“It is unfortunate that enactment of laws is not as fast as we may want it to be,” she said.

The Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled that the age of sexual consent is now 18 years after an application by two women challenging some sections of the Marriages Act.