Parly to fast track age of consent and PVO Bills

PARLIAMENT has resolved to fast-track the revised Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Protection of Children and Young Persons Amendment Bill, and the Administration of Estates Amendment Bill as the Second Republic moves to close potential gaps in the laws.

The three Bills were tabled before the National Assembly last week and went through their First Reading.

The PVO Amendment Bill was brought back before Parliament to address reservations President Mnangagwa had expressed when he exercised his constitutional right to withhold assent after it was passed by Parliament last year.

The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill seeks to raise the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 after President Mnangagwa invoked his powers under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act to gazette Statutory Instrument 2 of 2024, in compliance with a Constitutional Court ruling that had declared a section of the law that sets the age of sexual consent at 16 as unconstitutional.

The Presidential Powers last six months by which time Parliament should have debated it.

The Administration of Estates Amendment Bill seeks to provide for the better and autonomous administration of the Office of the Master of the High Court so that it can the people of Zimbabwe in a more efficient and decentralised manner.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said it was important to have the proposed laws dealt with expeditiously.

He requested for the suspension of procedural requirements related to the period of tabling a Bill.

“I seek leave of the House to move that the provisions of Standing Order, Number 142 (1) which states that every Bill other than a constitutional Bill must be published in the Gazette 14 days before it is introduced in the National Assembly in respect of the following Bills:- Private Voluntary Organisations Bill, Administration of Estates Amendment Bill and Criminal Laws, that is Protection of Children and Young Persons Bill,” said Minister Ziyambi.

He said the PVO Amendment Bill was not new but was meant to address a few issues raised by President Mnangagwa when he referred it back to Parliament hence there was no need to wait for the prescribed 14 days before it could be debated.

“There are about two or three reasons why I am seeking leave to have the House suspend this provision so that we can bring the Bills. The first one, the Private Voluntary Organisations Bill was before the August House and there are minor amendments. So, I am seeking that it comes because it was before the House before the expiration of the last Parliament. 

“The Administration of the Estates Amendment Bill deals with the office of the Master. There are a lot of issues that are urgent and we need this House to consider that Bill as well as the Criminal Laws Amendment. There is a gap in using the Presidential powers . . . So, I am moving that we reduce the days the Bills have been gazetted, we bring them for First Reading and then Parliament can start interrogating the Bills,” said Minister Ziyambi.

After a debate on the issue, the National Assembly eventually agreed to fast-track the Bills before they were introduced in the House.

All three Bills were referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee, a committee of Parliament which scrutinises all Bills and Statutory Instruments to determine if they are consistent with the Constitution.

 The Statutory Instrument invoked by the President raised the age of consent to sexual relations to 18, consistent with the Constitution which sets the minimum marriage age at 18 and defines all young people as below the age of 18, while the original law defined them as below the age of 16, so protection was withdrawn from 17 and 18-year-olds.

The preamble to the Bill gazetted last week confirms that the proposed law is meant to confirm the temporary law.

The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill contains several sections that protect children from sexual exploitation.

It calls children “young persons”, and that term is defined as meaning boys and girls under the age of 16 years. The Constitution, on the other hand, fixes 18 years as the age at which children become adults, so although the Criminal Law Code protects children under the age of 16, it does not protect children between the ages of 17 and 18.

Herald

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