ZHRC Calls for Amendment of Termination of Pregnancy Act

Commission Seeks to Protect Women's Rights With Legal Amendment

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe
Zimbabwe abortion law reform

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has taken a bold stance, urging lawmakers to critically review and amend the Termination of Pregnancy Act to incorporate a broader definition of “unlawful intercourse” that includes instances of rape within marriage and sexual intercourse with minors under the age of 18. The call for amendment, articulated by ZHRC chairperson Elasto Mugwadi, highlights a significant step toward safeguarding the rights and health of women and girls across all ages in Zimbabwe.

Mugwadi’s statement sheds light on the disparity between the current Termination of Pregnancy Act and the evolving criminal law which recognises marital rape as a punishable offense. He emphasizes the need for the abortion law to reflect these developments, thereby aligning Zimbabwe’s statutory provisions with international human rights standards and recommendations. This move aims to dismantle longstanding myths surrounding marital rape and advocates for the progressive protection of women’s rights.

The commission’s push for legislative reform comes against the backdrop of dire consequences faced by women, often adolescents or younger, who resort to unsafe abortions due to compelling circumstances. The lack of legal provisions for terminating pregnancies resulting from rape, including marital rape, forces many to seek illegal and hazardous methods, posing severe risks to their health and the lives of unborn children. In Zimbabwe, illegal abortions are punishable by up to five years in jail and/or a fine, a legal stance that further complicates the situation for women in distress.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling to increase the legal age of sexual consent from 16 to 18 underscores the nation’s commitment to protecting the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls. Section 52 of the Zimbabwean Constitution enshrines the right to bodily and psychological integrity, including the autonomy to make reproductive decisions. The ZHRC’s recommendation to amend the Termination of Pregnancy Act is a crucial step toward ensuring that these constitutional protections are fully realized, offering women and girls the right to safe and legal abortion in cases of rape and sexual abuse.

As Zimbabwe grapples with the complex interplay between legal frameworks, societal norms, and individual rights, the ZHRC’s call for amendment is a beacon of hope for advancing women’s health and rights. The proposed legislative changes promise not only to protect women and girls from the repercussions of unsafe abortions but also to affirm their dignity and autonomy in making decisions about their bodies and reproductive health. As the debate unfolds, the nation stands at a crossroads, with the potential to embrace a more inclusive, compassionate, and rights-based approach to abortion and reproductive health.

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