Auxilia Katongomara Chronicle Reporter
CHILD molesters are not only being spared prison – they are being sent to perform community service at primary schools around the country without parents knowing, The Chronicle can reveal.
Last night, two MPs demanded answers from the Justice Ministry.
The Chronicle yesterday revealed how Zimbabwe’s courts have progressively lowered the age of consent to 12 years from 16, with child abusers being released back to the community with a simple ticking off.
Now, our shock investigation shows that magistrates are exposing children to further abuse by sending child sex predators to perform community service at primary schools.
Bulawayo East MP Thabitha Khumalo yesterday said Zimbabwe’s judiciary was committing “genocide”, arguing that lenient sentences were allowing paedophiles to target children with the real risk of infecting them with HIV and ruining their future.
She blasted: “What the system is doing is genocide because we’re killing our own children. We’re sending the next generation to death not just by the lenient sentences but also because there is HIV/AIDS.
“Sending a paedophile to a place where he can molest other children is like sending a thief to do community service in a shop where he can steal, and that shows a serious failure in our justice system.”
Another MP, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC, Umzingwane) said the Justice Ministry should step in immediately and ensure no child is put at risk by sending child molesters to their schools.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga is also demanding an electronic register of sex offenders to help courts to identify nomadic repeat offenders conducting their wicked activities across provincial lines, making it difficult for the police to find records of their past convictions.
Shown our findings of a pattern of sending child molesters to perform community service at schools by the courts, the MP said: “I didn’t know that it was happening, but now that we know, we’re not going to wait for a law but we’re going to take it up with the Ministry of Justice.
“It doesn’t make sense that you’re trying to get somebody off alcohol and you give them community service in a bar, that’s unacceptable.”
Last month , Future Ncube, 19, a Kezi herdsman who impregnated his 12 year-old “lover” was spared jail by Gwanda regional magistrate, Joseph Mabeza, who sentenced him to perform 210 hours of community service.
Inexplicably, the magistrate said Ncube should perform his sentence at Mbembeswana Primary School.
In October last year, 22-year-old Mlamuli Ndlovu of BH57, Jambezi, escaped with little more than a slap on the wrist after he was sentenced to do 280 hours of community service following his conviction for impregnating a 13-year-old girl.
Victoria Falls resident magistrate Sharon Rosemani ordered him to perform 280 hours of community service at Jabula Primary School.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said internationally, paedophiles are banned from being near children, and wondered how Zimbabwean courts could allow this to happen.
“Paedophiles are people who follow up young people, in other countries they’re banned from being near children, they can’t be employed as teachers,” she said.
“How do we protect kids from such people? It can only be done by sending them away through harsh or lengthy jail terms. If any adult person looks at 12-year-old girls and thinks of sleeping with them, then they are sick.”
Chief Superintendent Social Ndanga, the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services Officer Commanding Matabeleland Region, said offenders sentenced to perform community service were not their responsibility.
“Those that perform community service at schools are under the supervision of headmasters. We don’t supervise people doing community service. It’s the duty of headmasters to supervise them,” said Chief Supt Ndanga.
Chief Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said he was unable to respond to our enquiries because he was not at work at least until Friday.
Attorney General Prince Machaya said he could only entertain our questions this afternoon.
In trying to understand why a court would send a child molester to work at a school, we asked one magistrate to explain their thought process.
He said the fact that one is a first offender influenced them to assume that they would not commit a similar crime in the future. He also said the availability of a government institution like a clinic, police station or school in a particular place played a role in deciding where a criminal would serve their community sentence.
The magistrate backed calls for a sex offenders’ register, saying police were “too lazy” to manually check the criminal history of child molesters.
“Often, you get told that an individual has committed similar crimes before but when they come to court they’re said to be a first offender. The government can help us there,” said the magistrate who cannot be named for professional reasons.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said it was now more urgent than ever to set up a sex offenders register so police can keep track with child molesters. This would require their DNA samples to be taken to help police to quickly narrow their investigations in a particular geographical area.
Zimbabwe has long held plans for a National Sex Offenders’ Register, even setting aside a $5 million budget for the project in 2011 – but nothing has come of it.
The project is tied to the police automated fingerprint identification system [AFIS] which will integrate the police computer network countrywide. Work has been slow, hampered by lack of funding.
South Africa set up its own sex offenders’ register in December 2010. It captures details of rapists, including sexual offenders against children and mentally-disabled people.
Campaigners for reforms to the country’s legislation want sex crimes against children under 16 to carry mandatory prison sentences.
Presently, only children under 12 are expressly protected by the law as “incapable” of consenting to sex. Having sex with a child under 12 attracts an automatic rape charge, but the law has been criticised for providing refuge to child sex offenders in cases of children aged between 12 and 16 by providing flexibility for magistrates to impose non-custodial sentences on the basis that children in that age group are “capable” of consenting to sex.
“Time has come for us to respect the rights of children, we make decisions on their behalf,” said Khumalo yesterday. “I’m shocked that there’re judges who pass such lenient sentences and you wonder if they’ve children at home.”