Maputo - Women’s organisations in Mozambique are planning to protest outside the country’s Parliament on Thursday against articles in a new draft of the penal code, including a provision that charges of rape or other sexual offences will be dropped if the rapist marries the victim.

The penal code is currently being revised by the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Commission – but it has left much of the old penal code, directly inherited from the Portuguese penal code of 1886, intact.

This is the case, for example, with Article 400 of the 1886 code – this states that cases of rape or other sexual offences will be dropped if the rapist marries his victim. If the rapist has already been sentenced, the marriage suspends the sentence, which will only be enforced if the couple divorce or separate.

This article has been in the code for 128 years – but since independence it has never been used. The commission missed the opportunity to scrap a provision that human rights organisations the world over regard as outrageous.

Thursday’s protest will also be directed at other provisions in the penal code which the women’s organisations say discriminate against women and children.

Another article on rape retains from the old code the concept of “illicit copulation” as the only form of rape. Since copulation in marriage is regarded as licit, the code does not recognise, let alone outlaw, marital rape.

The code sets the age of criminal responsibility at 10 – which would allow an 11-year-old to be tried as an adult. This provision contradicts Mozambican law, which sets 16 as the age of criminal responsibility.

Terezinha da Silva, co-ordinator of the Mozambican chapter of Women and Law in Southern Africa, said the offending articles, if approved, would constitute “flagrant violations of the rights of women, children and other groups”.

She regarded the provisions as “a negation of the rights inherent in the human person, which our constitution, and the regional and international instruments ratified by Mozambique, guarantee”. - Independent Foreign Service

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