Sunday, 14 July 2019

AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY TO BE RAISED


JUVENILES under 10 years are set to enjoy court and jail immunity as Zimbabwe reviews the age of criminal responsibility and afford more rights to minors.

The country’s age of criminal responsibility is currently pegged at seven, a situation that has seen children from that age being hauled before the courts or sent to young offenders’ prisons for various crimes.

However, Government argues that children acquire intelligence or maturity at different stages, hence the need to set the baseline at 10 years. The Sunday Mail understands that Government has already began consultations on the age of criminal responsibility under a broad framework of the Child Justice Bill.

The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary, Mrs Virginia Mabhiza said Cabinet has approved principles of the Bill, which include a review of the age of criminal responsibly.

“Cabinet approved principles stipulating 10 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility,” she said.

“The previous position in terms of Section 7 of Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23), stipulating rebuttable culpability, would have seen a child as young as seven years facing the formal justice system.” 

Mrs Mabhiza said the current position on the age of criminal responsibility is extreme and a remnant of the common law assimilated from the former colonial system.

She said the review was in line with the alignment of laws to the new Constitution and the current political administration’s aim to promote and protect the freedoms and rights of citizens, including children.

“Our community has reached a stage where we understand that our children are intelligent and mature at different stages,” said the permanent secretary.

“As such, the baseline that we have determined as appropriate to confer criminal responsibility comes from this understating,” she said.

Mrs Mabhiza said processes to get input from various stakeholders has already been set in motion so that the Child Justice Bill can be fine-tuned.

“Consultations have already begun with officials having visited areas such as Bulawayo, Beitbridge, Hwange, Gutu, Gweru Marange-Mutare and Murehwa,” she said. 

“The consultations are open to all, we are inviting stakeholders to join and contribute to the content of this Bill, which is a milestone in the history of our nation,” said Mrs Mabhiza.

Mrs Mabhiza said Government has been enforcing a separate justice system for juvenile offenders through its Pre-Trial Diversion programme.

She said the programme operates outside the legislative framework by diverting child offenders from the formal justice system. The children are put into a special system that caters for their special needs.

Legal expert Mr Clever Mandizvidza said the review in the age of criminal responsibility is upon the realisation that a child as young as seven would not have developed mentally, hence cannot be responsible for any criminal offence.

According to United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights, Member States are recommended not to fix the age of criminal responsibility for juveniles at a low age, bearing in mind issues to do with emotional, mental and intellectual maturity. Sunday Mail



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