Zimbabwe: ICJ publishes a legal brief on needed reform of sexual offences

Today, the ICJ published The case for reform: Criminal Law and Sexual Violence in Zimbabwe, a legal brief which examines sexual crimes in the Zimbabwean Criminal Code in light of the country’s obligations under international human rights law and standards.

The brief’s analysis is informed by provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as well as regionally and internationally recommended practices.

It highlights a number of concerns with respect to sections 65 – 72 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] (Criminal Code) and makes specific recommendations for reform.

In particular, the brief highlights the following concerns:

  • the limited scope of the crime of rape;
  • the problematic characterization of certain acts of a sexual nature as ‘indecent’ when, instead, they should be properly proscribed as violations of sexual autonomy;
  • the lack of adequate protection of children against sexual exploitation; and
  • the concurrent failure to recognize the sexual autonomy of adolescents engaged in non-exploitative, consensual sexual activity with a peer.

Speaking on the value of this brief, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser Blessing Gorejena noted that: “Sexual offences in Zimbabwe, particularly rape continue to be viewed to a larger extent as a private matter for which silence is a requirement, to the detriment of the victim and society at large. As a result, there is an urgent need to reform sexual offence legislation, including the Criminal Code in Zimbabwe. This brief offers clear and concise recommendations on how this can be done. It is an invaluable tool for legislative reform.”


Zimbabwe has seen an increase in the incidence of rape over the last five years according to 2019 statistics by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstats). The Zimbabwe Gender Commission reports that 22 women are raped daily, with one woman raped every 75 minutes. On average, 646 women are sexually abused monthly, with one in three girls raped or sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18. The vast majority of sexual offences are committed by men against women, children and other men.

The legal brief published by the ICJ follows on from a November 2015 ICJ reflection paper titled: “Sexual and Gender Based Violence, Fair Trial Rights and the Rights of Victims – Challenges in Using Law and Justice Systems Faced by Women Human Rights Defenders”. This publication compiled information gathered from a regional colloquium held by the ICJ in Swaziland in July 2015.

The 2015 publication highlighted a gap in the protection guaranteed to victims of sexual offences by the criminal law in Zimbabwe. Authors noted that certain provisions relating to sexual crimes in the Criminal Code offered limited protection to victims/survivors of such offences.


Blessing Gorejena, Senior Legal Adviser and Team Leader of ICJ Zimbabwe Project, t: +263 77 215 1989, e: blessing.gorejena(a)icj.org

Elizabeth Mangenje, Legal Adviser, t: +263 77 474 2420, e: elizabeth.mangenje(a)icj.org

Zimbabwe-Sexual violence-Advocacy-Analysis brief-2020-ENG (full paper, in PDF)

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