The Zimbabwean government has proposed a minimum mandatory 60-year jail sentence for people convicted of raping minors aged 12 years and below and the disabled, while a 40-year prison term will apply for all rape cases as a means to stamp out the crime.
In a statement, Information minister Christopher Mushohwe said the proposals were made in Cabinet and would help as a guide to the proposed amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (chapter 9:33): minimum mandatory sentencing for rape.
“Following widespread concerns of the rising of 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. Accordingly, the government resolved as follows, that a sentence of 60 years of imprisonment be imposed for cases of rape of minors between 12 years of age and the disabled; and that a sentence of 40 years of imprisonment be imposed for the rest of the cases of rape or sodomy,” said Dr. Mushohwe.
“These drastic measures have become necessary as a means to protect our society against perpetrators of this inhuman crime,” he added.
In Zimbabwe, violence against women and girls has been widely discussed, but sadly the statistics of rape cases are shocking, particularly the rape of minors below the age of 12 years. According to records by Msasa Project; a group that provides counselling and temporary shelter to women survivors of domestic violence; on average 300 cases of violence against women is recorded monthly.
Complimenting similar sentiments from Zimbabwean Police who last year, revealed that about 325 girls are raped every month, the majority between the ages of 11 and 15, which translates to 11 rape cases daily.
Further to these, data obtained from the National Aids Council (Nac) Gender and Workplace department in 2015, shows the most vulnerable age group to be girls aged between 11 and 16 years who constituted about 68 percent of the total number of girls abused throughout 2014.
Gender activists contend that the figures could even be higher, as a number of cases go unreported.
NAC gender and workplace coordinator Vimbai Mdege has previously expressed sadness at the increase of cases of young girls being sexually abused. Attributing the high cases of abuse of young girls to a number of factors, Mdege also described men who sexually abuse young girls as mad. “There are many factors to girl child abuse which include poverty, early marriages, abuse for ritual purposes, breakdown of social values, misconceptions with some men believing they can avoid HIV by engaging in sex with young girls. But at times I just believe its pure madness on the part of men and the laws are too weak in protecting the girl child,” she said.
Life coach and counsellor Justice Marwisa said there is a cultural dimension to the discussion claiming that there was need to revise cultural norms that encouraged abuse of women and girls. “It is true that culture is dynamic. However, the fact is that people sometimes retain certain aspects of their culture that they use knowingly or otherwise to abuse others. There are other cases where people are unknowingly influenced by engraved traditional practices in which women are, for example, considered subservient to men,” he said as he urged men to desist from using culture as defence for evil and rape. The fact that males are custodians of the law adds more to the abuse on women and girls in modern Zimbabwe.
Speaking of custodians of the law, the duty to determine the length and gravity of sentencing lies with the court. Magistrates arrive at different judgments after considering factors such as mitigation and aggravation. This proposed minimum sentencing however makes it that regardless of their summations on the various rape cases brought before them the penalty will ultimately still be high.