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Offenders deserve stiff penalties

Stiff penalties for perpetrators of sexual violence against women is the only way to curb escalating rape cases in the country.

Gender Lens with Moses Mugugunyeki

Zimbabwe is among the countries in sub Saharan Africa with a high prevalence of rape cases. Statistics from the police’s Victim Friendly Unit show that more than 2 400 children under the age of 18 were victims of rape between January and October last year alone.

The report also states that during the same period, 3 421 sexual abuse cases of minors were reported and that neighbours accounted for 41% of perpetrators, while relatives left in the care of the children accounted for 27%.

Although government, women’s and men’s organisations have mobilised against sexual violence, women continue to suffer from a lot of sexual abuse.

The minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Oppah Muchinguri is fighting in the corner of Harare West MP, Jessie Majome, who has moved a motion in Parliament on gender-based violence.

Muchinguri said speeches made during the debate would help shape her ministry’s policy, and affirmed her support for Majome’s proposal for a 30-year mandatory sentence for rape and stiffer sentences for other forms of gender-based violence.

The motion is likely to get a lot of support considering the outrage that sexual attacks on women have sparked lately and also the fact that women now constitute a relatively larger percentage of parliamentarians this year than previously — thanks to the new Constitution which calls for more women participation in decision making.

While the fight was being championed in parliament by the two women legislators, gender mainstreaming organisations last week also moved to petition Government and the Judiciary to impose stiffer penalties for sex crimes.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) director, Virginia Muwanigwa said stiffer penalties were crucial in curbing sex crimes.

“As WCoZ, we do believe that stiffer penalties will be a deterrent to rape. It is unbelievable to get convicted rapists sentenced to community service,” said Muwanigwa.

She said besides stiffer penalties, the government must make the Constitution work for minor children by demanding that no extenuating circumstances be considered for an adult who has sex with a child under 16 years of age.

“Some judges are talking about sex being consensual but our Constitution is clear that a child cannot consent to sex.

“Other sentences have cited mitigating circumstances such as there being a relationship. We are saying that is an abusive relationship where the child’s rights are being violated and courts have no business colluding with rapists.”

Men’ s inclusion in tackling rape problem critical

Government is also being challenged to come up with programmes that support survivors of rape.

There have been calls for rapists to be punished sternly, especially where they infect their victims with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. Gender experts said government must make it mandatory for rapists to go through HIV tests and if found positive, the sentence should be even stiffer.

Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) also said it was supporting the call for stiffer penalties for sexual offenders.

“We support the call for stiffer minimum sentences for sexual offenders,” said ZWRCN executive director, Pamela Mhlanga. “We have signed a petition by the WCoZ which will be presented to Government during this time of the International Women’s Day”.

Besides stiffer penalties, the government must reassert its commitment to the effective implementation of UN resolutions on women. It must specifically advocate commitment to the implementation of Resolution 1325, which calls for greater protection of women from gender-based violence.

There should also be emphasis on the need for strategic collaboration and the inclusion of men in the global response to the problem of rape. This should be realised from the assertion that, “Behind every rape, there is a man.”

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