Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the age of consent to sex is 16 years and that it has nothing to do with the age of consent to marriage.
Section 78 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe sets out the age of consent to marriage at 18 years and this has been confused with the age of consent to sex.
Ziyambi told Parliament that the Zimbabwe constitution is silent on the age of consent to sex and that there is no international treaty or convention on the issue.
He was responding to a question from Honourable Nyarai Tsuura (Proportional Representation) who wanted clarity on the age of consent to sex and the age of consent to marriage.
Below is the full-text answer from Minister Ziyambi to Honourable Tsuura’s question:
Thank you Madam Speaker. I want to thank Hon. Tsuura for the question. Madam Speaker Ma’am, regarding the first part of the question, the current legal position as referred in Section 70 of the Criminal Law Code is that the age of consent to sexual activity is pegged at 16 years. That is the law.
There is no international convention or treaty which provides for the age of consent to sex. So let us just be clear from the start that we do not have a standard age of consent across the board.
Our Constitution is also silent on the age of consent. However, on Section 78, it sets out the age of consent to marriage at 18 years.
It is necessary that I point out that there has never been in our law, a direct equation made between marriage and indulging in sexual activity. So, it has never really stated that this is the age you must indulge in sex, and we equate to age of marriage.
It has never been in our law. That practice has never been there, and we must not do so because marriage involves and requires more from a person as there are life commitments to consider including personal or proprietary and psychological as well, and we still stand by the position that 18 is the age of consent to marriage.
We do, however, implore parents, custodians and guardians to educate and teach the children to refrain from sexual conduct at a young age. We cannot, however, transfer this responsibility to the State, police and judiciary unless the sexual conduct involves matters such as rape, indecent assault and obtaining facts through inducement.
Madam Speaker Ma’am, there are proposals that the age of consent to sex should be raised to 18 years. Raising the age of consent to 18 years creates inevitable consequences.
These include criminal records for children and a bar to access sexual healthcare. Dr Ruth Labode (Proportional Representation) can allude to that. Children are already engaging in sexual activities among themselves or with older people.
The age of consent being fixed at 16, recognises facts that the law cannot dictate. The facts are that at the age of 16, most children are mature, beyond their age nowadays and are already sexually active.
Raising the age of consent to sex to 18 means children below the age of 18 having sexual intercourse will be criminalised. This results in children getting unwanted criminal records.
So, our position is that as parents, guardians and society, we must teach our children morals as opposed to abrogating our responsibility to the State, to say criminalise this conduct.
In addition, Madam Speaker, our prisons will be filled with young children who will now be labelled as criminals for consensually engaging in sexual activity.
Our judicial system will be clogged with these matters, resulting in resources being diverted from the real sexual crimes and other serious criminal offences.
If having intercourse becomes a criminal offence yet children are already indulging, this will deter these children from accessing sexual healthcare, since trying to access this healthcare is tantamount to admitting that one is guilty of a sexual offence.
These are issues that need to be resolved but my Ministry will not make a unilateral decision without consulting.
There shall be consultations with stakeholders and the general public so that we can take steps on the age of consent to sex.
However, I repeat, let us deal with issues of morality as a society and not transfer that responsibility to our criminal courts.
Madam Speaker Ma’am, on alleged inconsistencies between the Criminal Law Code and the Constitution, let me hasten to say there are no inconsistencies between the two.
The Constitution does not provide for the age of consent to sexual intercourse. It provides for the age of consent to marriage in Section 78, which is set at 18 years of age.
I would also like to make it clear that there are laws against rape and indecent assault. And there are laws against obtaining sex by inducements such as using money, bribery, et cetera where such are considered criminal offences and offenders will be rightfully charged.
Thank you, Madam Speaker Ma’am.