By James Muonwa
THE United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has hailed the government of Zimbabwe for reviewing upwards the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 years of age.
In a statement this Monday, the UN agency noted the commendable move would cut the prevalence of cases of child sexual abuse.
“UNICEF commends Zimbabwe for having passed legislation raising the age of consent for sexual relations to 18 years, thereby criminalising sexual relations of adults with children.
“This will contribute to a reduction of sexual abuse of children, which continues to be a concern in Zimbabwe,” Yves Willemot, UNICEF Zimbabwe head of communication said.
“Available data suggest that in Zimbabwe, over a third of girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18 years. For most of these girls, the perpetrators are intimate partners.
“Sexual violence on children has a significant impact on girls and boys who experience it. 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.”
It was also noted sexual violence leads to 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.
“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.”
Willemot said everybody in Zimbabwe must understand that sexual abuse of children is not acceptable, and they need to act accordingly and speak up.
“With the legislation passed raising the age of consent to 18 years, Zimbabwe has taken a new step in dealing with sexual abuse of children, which remains too often silent. The time has come to put it to an end.
“Children deserve to grow up in a safe environment. It is our shared responsibility to break the silence, to help prevent sexual abuse of children, and by extension all forms of violence against children, and to ensure children that are victims of violence, abuse and exploitation get the attention, assistance and support they need,” the statement further reads.