New Age of consent, what does it mean for us? by Princess Masuku

January 10, 2023
Amplify Girls Voices

The amendment of the legal age as to which one can consent to sexual relations has been met with mixed reactions. While others are jubilant, some are skeptical of it, deeming it does more harm than good.

While one would argue how developed countries have lower ages of consent and that government and society, at large seem to be invested in one’s personal life and choices instead of focusing on economic development, it is key to note the difference in the socio-economic backgrounds. One cannot solve a domestic problem using foreign solutions, context is thus pivotal in coming up with tailored solutions to combat prevalent problems in that area.

The detrimental "catch them young" mentality in most men has surged the instances of sexual exploitation of girls, wherein young girls have been coerced in one form or another by older men. Though true to note that a law prohibiting coercion by means of money, threats or whatsoever existed. A loophole provided by the age of consent meant that the perpetrator could walk away scot-free regardless of engaging in sexual relations with a minor. If she were 16, 17 she could consent therefore nullifying the crime. Pedophiles were swift in capitalizing on this, arguing the minors were old enough to consent by law. When in reality most of them would look back and regret, realizing that indeed they were taken advantage of. It also didn't make sense that one is still a minor and can consent to sexual relations but not marriage. The percentage of minors engaging with other minors compared to adult on minor, is relatively low due to socialization. Where children of the same age are taught to seek partners from different age groups based on gender (girls-older men, boys-younger females). Alignment definitely mitigates the prevalence in cases of minors being taken advantage of, especially the girl child due to the gendered nature of these offences.

Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) Chief Executive Virginia Muwanigwa said people should not view the judgment as a way to criminalize sex, but to protect underage girls from sexual perverts. This is a frantic effort to protect the girl child, after numbers surged during the pandemic era, with a lot of girls falling pregnant mostly by older men and dropping out of school.

Well, minors also engage with one another, what happens then? Are they then criminalized? All these being questions looming at the back of people's minds. It is fact that children are engaging in sexual activity among themselves at early ages. Such children require access to sexual and reproductive health services as an intervention. It is then key to go a step further, and invest time and necessary resources into dealing with cases involving minors. Getting them the necessary help, at a very precarious time. The question then becomes, in increasing the age of consent, are SRHR services withheld from a minor who needs them, or is the case treated appropriately with the health and safety of the minor being first priority, rather than dismissing the child, reiterating the " you shouldn't even be engaging" mantra. The goal at the end of the day being to protect the girl child as she beats most of the consequences of engaging in sexual activity. To close the tap on new HIV infections and death due to backyard illegal abortions, SRHR services should be administered within right, with a "save life, ask later" kind of mentality. Health care personnel should be equipped with the skill of administering aid without prejudice based on age, because if not then there is no net change, just static.

This clearly proves that there is still a long way to go in educating about sexual reproductive health rights to the general populace. Though a step in the right direction has been taken, there is still further to go. More importantly, it is our hope that this law will be implemented to fully protect children from sexual predators and the pandemic that is child marriage.

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