THE Constitutional Court (ConCourt) yesterday raised the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 in a landmark ruling with far-reaching consequences.
The ruling follows an application by two Harare women seeking to nullify the age of consent set at 16, saying it violates the rights and protection of girls in terms of the Constitution which set the legal age of marriage at 18.
The women, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi, who were 19 and 18 at the time of the application, approached the court through their lawyer, Tendai Biti, challenging the Customary Marriages Act.
“Yes, the ConCourt handed down the judgment holding that the age of sexual consent is 18 years of age, not 16, and that no one may marry a child who is below 18,” Biti told NewsDay yesterday. The women argued that 16 years as the age of consent was indirectly discriminating against girls based on gender, compromising “their health, education, human dignity and best interests”.
They argued that raising the age of consent to 18 would at least deter, especially older men, from engaging in relationships with girls under the age of 18.
In 2016, the ConCourt outlawed child marriages and struck off the statutes section 22(1) of the Marriage Act, which, for decades, had allowed children under the age of 18 to formally get married. In their application, the two women – who were married off before the age of 18, argued that early marriages violated the country’s Constitution.
They argued that section 22 of the Marriages Act which sets 16 years as the legal age of consent violates section 78 of the supreme law, which stipulates that anyone who has reached the age of 18 has a right to have a family.