UNICEF hails ban on sex with minors below 18

Humanitarian agency urges more investment to cement child protection measures

By Tapiwa Svondo

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (Zimbabwe) has welcomed the gazetting of a law criminalising sexual relations between adults and children aged below 18 but called for more measures to cement efforts aimed at reducing rampant child sexual exploitation in the country.

In a statement, the United Nations’ child rights agency, also emphasised the need for continued investment in prevention programmes and support services for victims.

“As we applaud the decision taken to prosecute adults who sexually abuse children, UNICEF calls on the government to also continue to invest in the prevention of sexual abuse of children and support to victims.

“Based on the lessons from existing initiatives by the government and partners, prevention and support programmes must be continued and scaled up.

“Everybody in Zimbabwe must understand that sexual abuse of children is not acceptable, and they need to act accordingly and speak up,” UNICEF said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently invoked his authority under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to gazette Statutory Instrument 2 of 2024 to outlaw sex with minors.

This comes after a lot of paedophiles were found to have escaped prosecution lately after government failed to enact a law to support an earlier decree by the Constitutional Court that the age of consent to sex – initially set at 16 – should be harmonised with the age at which one can be legally married – at 18.

Offenders now face jail of up to 10 years.

UNICEF said the impact of sexual violence on children, both boys and girls was profound and far-reaching.

“Sexual violence on children has a significant impact on girls and boys who experience it,” UNICEF said.

“The effect is both physical as well as psychological. It can impact education, create mental disorders, and jeopardise a healthy sexual life at a later age.

“Sexual violence can lead to an early pregnancy when the girl is not mentally and physically ready to give birth or take care of a baby.

“Early pregnancies often lead to child marriage and school dropouts, disallowing girls from developing their full potential.”

The government is now expected to enact a substantive law to operationalise the ban on sex with minors.

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