By Byron Mutingwende
Nakai Soko (not her real name) arrived home around seven o’clock in the evening. Upon opening the door, she realised that her father was reading a newspaper, relaxed on the couch in the living room. She knew trouble had started because the rule was that she was supposed to be at home by five o’clock in the evening latest.
“Dad raised his head and saw me clutching my school bag. His red eyes met mine and with a yell, he ordered me to return where I had come from. John, my boyfriend, then a first year student at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), had delayed me at the town since he had insisted on us having a conversation at the coffee shop. My father gave me no chance to explain myself. That is how I ended up eloping to John when I was only 15 years old and doing my Form 3,” Nakai said, struggling to hold back tears.
John rented a two-roomed cottage in Westlea. He had no choice except to take in Nakai although she was still a minor. That night, he slept on the floor while Nakai used the single bed. Luckily enough, in those days UZ students used to get some considerable grants from the government.
“The following day, John came from work with a bag with new clothes for me to change and some groceries. The bad thing is that he came back drunk and forced me to have sex with him. I was actually raped but I had nowhere to go,” Nakai said, sobbing.
Child marriage and date rape are rampant in Zimbabwe. Katswe Sistahood, in partnership with Oxfam, held a meeting with Parliamentarians and survivors of date rape to raise awareness about the problem in Harare on 22 March 2018.
“We would like to lobby Parliament of Zimbabwe to incorporate provisions for date rape in the law and to enact laws to effect the Constitutional Court judgement on child marriages. We have realised that national responses to child marriage have focused on law reform, poverty eradication and access to education for girls. However, nothing has been done to address date rape and how child marriage is being used as a remedy for date rape,” said Talent Jumo, the Director of Katswe Sistahood.
Zimbabwe has a 31 percent prevalence of child marriage with 5 percent of the girls getting married before the age of 15 years. Addressing the key drivers of child marriage will go a long way in curbing the practice.
Testifying about her harrowing experiences that emanated from a date rape, another young woman who spoke on condition of anonymity said she had a child from that painful encounter. Unfortunately, the boyfriend dumped her while she was pregnant. To add salt to the injury, her parents disowned her on grounds that she had brought shame and disrepute to the family.
“I had no one else to look after me after my boyfriend and family disowned me. I resorted to commercial sex work to in order to take care of my child who is also anaemic. The father of my child is a marauding child molester since I am not the only one he impregnated. Sadly, he is walking scot free,” the young woman said.
The situation was more severe for an orphaned teenager who was also impregnated on a date rape.
“As an orphan, I grew up without the mother’s love that others enjoy. When I was impregnated on a date rape, I was forced to elope to the boyfriend but he ran away from home. I am 23 years old and have got to look after the child on my own. Thanks to Katswe Sistahood that offered me psychological counselling and provided me with some necessities, I would have committed suicide because of trauma.”
Dr. Nonhlanhla Zwangobani, the Director of Technical Services at the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) said date rape leads to traumatic stress.
“One can develop some personality disorders. This may include indulging in abnormal behaviour like abusing drugs, loose morals, feelings of guilt, self-blame, anxiety, powerlessness as well as eating and sleeping disorders,” Dr. Zwangobani said.
Date rape is not an issue that is widely discussed in Zimbabwe. Research shows that close to half of girls reported that their first sexual experience was unwanted. In the National Baseline Survey on Life Experiences (NBSLEA) conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency (ZimStat), 41% of girls reported that their sexual debut before 18 years was unwanted.
In the 18-24 years age group women who had their forced debut sex, 31% of them reported that the sex occurred at the perpetrator’s house, showing the intimacy of the relationship between perpetrator and victim. 78% of the females who experienced sexual violence identified their boyfriend as the perpetrator. Only 2, 7% received assistant medical services, legal aid or help from NGOs.
Debra Mwase, the Legal Officer of Katswe Sistahood, in an analysis of statistics of rape cases at Harare Regional Courts for 2015, said convictions were high in the 0-12 years age group because children below the age of 12 years are not capable of giving consent to sex. Therefore the issue of consent is not disputed.
“Although there is a strategy on adolescent sexual health, there are several cultural, economic and social barriers that prevents girls from accessing contraception and sexuality education,” Mwase said.
She proffered a plethora of policy recommendations. On the law reform, Mwase called for a change of the definition of a young person in Section 61 of the Criminal Code to mean any person below 18 years. She averred that sexual intercourse between minors should not be criminalised.
Magret Matienga, the Member of the House of Assembly for Sunningadale Constituency said there was need to ensure effective remedies of date rape through improving processes at police stations and the courts.
Joseph Mapiki, the Member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health urged Katswe Sistahood and other providers of safe spaces for survivors of rape to offer training in vocational skills like carpentry, sewing, building and knitting. This would give survivors of rape alternative means of survival especially in situations where they may not be economically empowered.