Sex offenders take advantage of vague laws to prey on minor girls

KADOMA – Fourteen year old Thandiso Mangena, (not her name) has stayed shared abject poverty with her paternal grandmother since birth.

By Nhau Mangirazi

Her grandmother is hardly at home selling wares to gold panners on the outskirts of Kadoma about 65 kilometers towards Gokwe.

Dressed in a worn out oversized blue dress, her trials and tribulations have outpaced her years. She stays in one of Kadoma oldest suburbs where she is vegetables vendor.

For some time, Thandiso has also been taking care of two of her cousins aged 10 years and seven left behind by her aunt whose whereabouts remain unknown.

‘I am the ‘mother’ fending for these two here and have grown up to accept it. We eat what we have that day,’ she says preparing sadza.

On the day of our visit, the family did not have cooking oil and this has been so for three consecutive days.

The poverty stricken lifestyle exposed Thandiso to early sexual encounter with two older men three times her age late last year.

One of them offered her a 750 ml bottle of cooking oil before demanding sex in return.

‘We needed cooking oil for our relish and I accepted,’’ she stated.

With the other man, she would get groceries including sugar, salt and at times, sweets.

However, her sexual encounters became public prompting police to investigate after being tipped off. The sex offenders were dragged to court after admitting of the offence.

‘Thandiso’s case went to court but the men … were handed down two years each after it emerged she had consented to sex with them. It rather exposes how the girl child is being affected by such unclear laws,’ says local community leader, David Maphosa.

Some residents here have raised red flag over such short term sentences that do not deter sex offender suspects.

An officer with the Prosecutor General’s office, speaking unanimously, says Section 70 of Criminal and Codification Act is another ‘dosage of abuse’ on minors.

‘Generally, sex offenders are using vague laws as a gateway paying little attention to Section 70 of the Criminal Law and Codification Act that  criminalises having sex with a minor by consent. It gives leeway to the courts to hand down community service on such offences because it is not a harsh criminal offence. We cannot blame the courts but our laws are just too unclear,’ says the officer.

Section 70 says it is an offence for ‘sexual intercourse or performing indecent acts with young persons’.

Justice for Children Trust programs officer, Sandra Muengwa called on parliamentarians to fast track alignment.

‘We appeal to parliamentarians to be proactive in aligning laws to the new constitution so that it caters for girl child rights to be only married at 18 years among other rights,’ says Muengwa.

Harare West MP Jessie Majome, an advocate for ending child marriages, took the campaign forward when she presented a draft bill of amendments to laws addressing child marriage to the Vice President Hon. Emmerson Mnangagwa, also Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Mnangagwa undertook to incorporate some of the proposed amendments into the Marriages Bill currently being crafted.

‘The bill proposes amendments which will align to the new Constitution by stricter registration of births; verifying the ages of couples and widening the scope of people appointed as marriage officers. It also seeks to have 18 years as marriage cut off, getting rid of child marriage. It increases age of consent to 18’ says Majome.

‘It was our obligation and commitment as MPs to end early, child and forced marriages’ adds Majome.

She says it is imperative to remove all excuses for child marriages in line with the Constitution’s ban on child marriage.

Zimbabwe joined the Africa Union campaign to end child marriages in mid-2015. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development with support from UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNFPA, the Child Rights and Women’s Rights Coalitions has been working on a National Action Plan to End Child Marriages. The Zimbabwe Constitutional Court made a ruling in January 2016 to outlaw child marriages.

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