By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
20 May 2014
More than 5,000 children are raped every year in the country, gender Minister Oppah Muchinguri revealed last week. It has also been reported that police officers believe the actual number may be far higher, because so many of the crimes are not reported.
The minister was speaking to Mutare residents at an event held at the border city where she also revealed that the majority of the perpetrators are never prosecuted.
In her speech Muchinguri said rapists should be jailed for at least 30 years and argued that the offence should be treated no differently from murder, the Daily News quoted her as saying.
She also noted that most incidents of child sexual abuse and rape happen within the family set up, with male relatives often being the perpetrators.
“The police should arrest these murderers because raping a child is as good as killing them. We want perpetrators to be jailed for at least 30 years.”
Rogue traditional healers who misadvise those with the incurable HIV/AIDS that raping a virgin will cure them, should also be jailed for 30 years, Muchinguri said.
She urged parents to concern themselves more with the well-being of their children saying this helps to build trust, making it easier for minors to open up if they are being abused.
Taylor Nyanhete, director at child rights group Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children, said a lot still needs to be done to protect children, and called on families to report abusers to the police.
“It is very worrying that in most cases the people such as parents, guardians, neighbours and teachers who are supposed to protect the children are the perpetrators of sexual violence against children,” said Nyanhete.
Nyanhete said his organisation will soon launch a campaign to raise awareness on the rape issue and encourage communities to protect the vulnerable who include women and children.
He noted that many cases go unreported because the children do not know who to trust or because families choose to sweep it under the carpet resulting in many sex offenders going unpunished, Nyanhete said.
Nyanhete encouraged rape victims to report as soon as they can, saying genuine cases have collapsed because police would have failed to find evidence.
Gender rights activist Edinah Masanga warned that demanding that rape victims “bring or preserve evidence” can potentially hinder them from reporting, given the intrusive nature of the crime.
Last year, women’s rights groups raised concern that cattle rustlers were getting harsher penalties than rapists despite the obvious gravity of rape.
But Nyanhete said there were encouraging signs that the courts were beginning to respond to calls by rights groups to hand down deterrent sentences.
Nyanhete cited as an example the recent case of church pastor Robert Gumbura who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for raping female congregants.
“Rape is a serious crime and it is important that sentences given to offenders reflect the seriousness of this offence.”
He said the high figure of 5,000 indicates that more child abuse cases were now being reported, and called on rights group to step up their awareness campaigns.
“We feel regular communities outreach programmes are key to the fight against rape so that children know where to go when they experience rape, and also for communities to know that rape is a crime,” he added.
Last year police figures showed that 240 children were sexually abused each month.