21 Jun

Tomana, Zimbabwe’s Prosecutor-General Undermines the National Efforts to Fight Child Marriage

By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda*

I was so shocked by Johaness Tomana, Zimbabwe’s Prosecutor-General’s recent interview on the issue of sexual consent for girls and child marriage. I have listened and played the original audio a number of times, given the outcry and expression of outrage by hundreds of Zimbabweans.

Tomana’s statements are just unacceptable because, the Prosecutor-General is a constitutional office. As the public protector, he is the most senior legal advisor on matters of criminal justice to the nation. His knowledge of the constitution and the law should be impeccable, clear and consistent. His mandate is to uphold the constitution and protect human rights of all citizens through the application of the law. In matters relating to children, the best interest of the child must be paramount.

Tomana failed to provide clear and coherent information on the constitutional position related to sexual consent for girls and child marriage. He clearly considers girls as young as 9 or 12 as potentially capable of consenting to sex irrespective of the law. He failed to acknowledge that Zimbabwe’s constitution sets the age of marriage at 18 years. His clear support for lenient sentences including community service for such sexual offences does not accord with societal expectation for stiff sentences in cases of rape and sexual crimes especially related to children.

In addition, Tomana’s statements that child marriage could be an option for girls who drop out of school is abhorrent. His statement indicts parents, families and the government in failing to provide education for girls. In prescribing marriage for such girls, he is condemning the children and the future of the country to the pitfalls of extreme poverty, condoning sexual abuse and opening the floodgates for exploitation of girls. This is a shocking position from a senior government official. He is expected to advocate for the right to education and potentially use the law to bring to book men or parents who opt to marry such girls. In his statements, Tomana shows lack of respect for advancing the rights of women nor interest protecting their dignity.

His casual, contradictory and outrageous statements undermine the efforts the country is making to fight child marriage and build a strong foundation and future for the girl child. Zimbabwe is signatory to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Children.  In order for the continent to achieve the recently launched African Common Position on Ending Child Marriage within a single generation, it is an imperative that government officials lead by example in their attitude and commitment to fighting this harmful practice and gross violation of rights of girls.

Zimbabwe has a child marriage prevalence rate of 30%. The prevalence of child marriage indicates that Mashonaland Central leads with 50%. In second place is Mashonaland West 42%, Masvingo 39%, Mashonaland East 36%, Midlands 31%, Manicaland 30%, Matabeleland North 27%, Harare 19%, Matabeleland South 18% while Bulawayo has the least prevalence with about 10%. (Source. UNICEF). Africa has the highest number of countries with high prevalence rate of child marriage with some countries such as Niger at 74%. This practice is often attributed to poverty and negative social norms embedded in patriarchy and gender inequality. However, there should be no justification to perpetuate this criminal act and abuse of girls.

In this regard, Tomana’s position undermines the integrity of his office, for the administration of justice in sexual offences including child marriage. I therefore fully support the statement by the Zimbabwean child rights organization on this matter. His position has become untenable.

*Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda is a Zimbabwean,  African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage, and General Secretary of the World YWCA. 

19 Jun

Tomana’s Shocking Utterances Promotes Child Abuse and Child Marriage

I fully support the statement below issued by the Zimbabwe Child Rights Organisations on Zimbabwe Prosecutor-General Tomana’s Utterances that A Child of 12 years ca give sexual consent.

Child Rights Movement Statement in response to Johannes Tomana’s statements quoted in the Herald of 19 June 2015

We are seriously outraged by the careless utterances attributed to the Prosecutor General in relation to the debate on age of consent. While we are tempted to take his comments as personal, we are clear that his office does not allow him to make such contradictory statement in view of Zimbabwe’s position on childrens’ rights, and the campaign to end child marriages.

We are shocked to hear these utterances, a few days after the President, as SADC and AU Chairperson clearly outlined the official position. We believe this is lack of respect not just for the laws he is supposed to uphold but for the office of the Head of State and Government, President Robert Mugabe.

We stand in unity to condemn in the most serious sense the demonic statements attributed to a person whose word is seen as law.
Every girl deserves a chance, to become a fully productive adult woman and as the child and women’s rights sector, we call upon him to do an honourable thing and resign and if he does not, we call upon the president to fire him for bringing the law profession and the country into disrepute.

We also call for an immediate retraction of his statement.

Children should not be sacrificed for the non-functional economy, rather we call for those in decision making to address the socio-economic problems he has raised.

In view of the fact that some are taking advantage of the contradictions between the laws and the constitution, we call for the immediate alignment.

We also call for the immediate affirmation by the Justice Minister that the constitution is supreme.

We stand in unity to demonise what the Prosecutor General (PG) has been quoted to say in the media. Like every child, every girls has a vision for her future and the PG is destroying it by redirecting her future towards marriage. Patriarchy has SYSTEMATICALLY designed marriage as an achievement and the ultimate goal for every girl, which is ridiculous.

The PG’s position is untenable. These statements are indeed shocking, especially from such a high office mandated to ensure child protection and quite unfortunate at a moment like this where numerous strides are being made at many levels to address child marriages in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.

These are reckless personal statements that are not endorsed with the law. He takes upon himself the role of a psychologist who can then say with certainty that a 12 year old is capable of consent when he clearly does not understand the development stages of a human being.

A 12 year old is a minor who cannot decide a lot of things including; which school to go to, how to wash their privates and what clothes to wear. Now you want to entrust them with consent to have sex.

We as the child rights sector cannot entrust Zimbabwe’s law to a prosecutor general who is intertwined in the patriarchal discourse.
We are shocked that Tomana is supporting the milling of paedophiles around our children and we call for the magistrates to henceforth desist from sentencing rapists to community service.

06 Jun

Mt Royal and the Message in a Cup

She lived in room 19 and he was directly on the second floor in room 37. They were both sub wardens and students at Uni. He hopelessly could not hold back. She had to know and know soon. He had tried to cast her an eye in the dining room, had sat next to her in meetings and often talked loudly to be noticed but nothing was working.

He often would go to room 19 to borrow an iron or ask if she had some cassettes of reggae music, although he was not into music at all. He knew they were about to close and would probably go different ways. He could not bear the thought of not seeing her again.

That evening, he bought a single rose at Fife Avenue. He wrote a little note, “I love you and do not care whether you say yes or no. I just want you to know“. He placed the little note in a new coffee mug which had a scribbled message, “thinking of you now“. It’s those beautiful mugs you buy at gift shops. He took a string, dhirau and tied the rose to the cup handle.

It was late-ish around 10pm, Friday evening. He looked out of his window and slowly lowered the cup with the love note and rose. Since Room 37 was directly above 19, it was easy to drop the cup just a floor below. She was reading her book ready to go to bed, when she had a clank, clank on her window. She looked out and saw a cup gently knocking, with a rhythm.

She woke up and in her pajamas walked to the window. As she took the cup with rose and note she instinctively knew that this was it. She has been kind of expectant, though not sure of what. She took the cup and walked slowly to her bed, carefully untying the note and the rose. While reading for the the note fifth time, she heard a knock on the door. She knew it was him. She went and opened her door. He stood there, tall handsome and smelling of a fresh bath. He simply said “ndashaya hope“.

The moment she opened her door for him, she was opening her life to him. With that embrace and kiss was the love that lasted their lifetime.

(c) Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2015


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