Raising the age of consent to 18 years reduces abuse of children: UNICEF

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Staff Writer

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.

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 in 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. Sexual violence can lead to an 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. Everybody in Zimbabwe must understand that sexual abuse of children is not acceptable, and they need to act accordingly and speak up,” said Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale, the UNICEF Zimbabwe Representative.

“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,” he added.