AT least 22 women are raped daily in Zimbabwe with an average of one rape taking place per 75 minutes translating to an average of 646 women being violated each month, according to the Zimbabwe Gender Commission.
The Commission also reports that one in three girls is also raped or sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18.5 years and the vast majority of sexual offences are committed by men against women, children and other men.
Zimbabwe Gender Commission chairperson Commissioner Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe said statistics of rape in Zimbabwe were alarming and on the increase.
“The statistics on the incidences of rape in Zimbabwe are shockingly high, they are alarming.
They are not good at all, they are also under reported which is also an indication that the cases we have on record could be more than what are actually reported,” she said.
Comm Mukahanana-Sangarwe said many were going unreported owing to several cultural, religious and social issues that are going on.
“The cases are under reported actually, this is largely because of religious and also cultural issues that are affecting this underreported. In our culture, a lot of cases are taking place and what happens is that the perpetrators are protected within the family units so there is a challenge there,” she said.
The Chairperson said there was a national public inquiry on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) of young girls and child marriages and the efficacy of access to justice and social protections in these thematic issues that is taking place, which revealed the extent of abuse in the country.
“The inquiry on child marriages and SEA revealed that these children that were in these marriages were actually victims of rape by close family relations, so the matter is serious,” she said.
The Commission noted in the national inquiry that Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Young Girls and Child Marriages (including those with disabilities) was a systemic barrier prejudicial to gender equality, and gender mainstreaming.
The negative effects of child marriages in so far as it curtails the development of young girls, expose them to health risks and Sexual Gender Based Violence cannot be overemphasized.
“The Commission is therefore duty bound to carry out full investigations into these matters.
The conduct of such investigations affords the Commission an opportunity to identify a sector/social stratum which is severely affected by the identified barrier, notify the nation through a government gazette and adverts, and invite complainants and witnesses to make submissions.
Thereafter the Commission will have leeway to summon persons and institutions which it deems fit to respond to the complaints,” reads part of the submissions to the inquiry.
According to the Research and Advocacy Unit of the Commission, 31 percent of girls in Zimbabwe get married before the age of 18 and four percent are married before the age of 15.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat), 33.7 percent of girls aged under 18 are married, which means that one in three girls under 18 are married.
Zimstat also recorded that two percent of boys get married before reaching the age of 18 years.
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development highlighted that, a total of 4,959 young girls got impregnated during lockdown period and nearly 5 000 of the girls’ risk losing their educational opportunity.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission also said that statistics from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2019 demonstrate that Child Marriage is still a challenge in Zimbabwe and disproportionately affecting more girls than boys.
Further indications are that Child Marriage prevalence is high (40 percent) in rural areas as compared to urban areas (21.3 percent).
A Constitutional Law expert at the University of Zimbabwe Dr James Tsabora said it was folly to address rape as a crime committed on women only while men are victims/survivors of rape too in some instances.
“I agree that there is a gendered description of rape in section 65 of the Criminal Code and this is wrong. It’s a criminal offence created on a very wrong assumption without any legal logic.
We have had several cases where women commit rape and the section must be revisited.
Other jurisdictions provide enough guidance and the law should be changed to reflect lived reality,” he said.
Turning to the case of stock theft being given stiffer sentences than that of rape, Dr Tsabora said it was unjustified.
“Rape is a crime committed against a person, but the Criminal Code identifies it as a sexual crime only.
Stock theft is a property crime.
There is this unjustified tendency in the Code to prefer heavier sentences against property crimes than sexual crimes.
Again, it is my feeling that crimes against the person deserve more heavier penalty, the insistence on heavier sentences against property crimes gives a bad taste that this law was made with the middle-class property holders in mind,” he said.
According to a 2020 publication on Criminal Law and Sexual Violence in Zimbabwe, many national laws, Zimbabwe included, fail to be gender neutral.
“The failure of many national laws to be gender neutral is a discriminatory practice under international human rights law and international criminal law standards; as such it fails to provide adequate protection of the law and access to justice and effective remedies to victims/survivors of rape in a manner consistent with the right of everyone to equality before the law and equal protection of the law without discrimination.
Zimbabwe’s criminal law binary approach to rape (i.e., penile penetration of a female by a male perpetrator) violates other survivors’ rights to protection against rape, which, in turn, violates their sexual autonomy and human dignity,” reads the publication.