Zimbabwe Constitutional Court outlaws judicial corporal punishment

On 3 April 2019, the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe ruled that, with immediate effect, no male juvenile convicted of any offence could be sentenced to receive corporal punishment. The prohibition was extended to apply to sentences of corporal punishment which had already been imposed but were awaiting execution. The decision confirmed a 2014 judgment by the Harare High Court which had found judicial corporal punishment of juveniles to be unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Court was asked to examine whether section 353 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act 1927 on the “corporal punishment of male juveniles” was constitutionally invalid, specifically in light of section 53 of the 2013 Constitution which guarantees the right to be protected from physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and section 51 on the right to human dignity.

Drawing upon international and regional human rights law, the Court ruled that judicial corporal punishment was inherently degrading and highlighted that it had been abolished in many countries as “being incompatible with the contemporary concepts of humanity, decency and fundamental fairness”. The Court rejected arguments that an exception should be made for judicial corporal punishment of juveniles, made on the grounds that due to their young age corporal punishment would benefit children in a way that it would not benefit adults. The Court highlighted that children had inherent human dignity which should equally be respected and protected.

The Court concluded that the “elimination of judicial corporal punishment from the penal system is an immediate and unqualified obligation on the State”, struck down article 353 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act as unconstitutional and outlawed all judicial corporal punishment of juveniles.

Although the decision effectively bans judicial corporal punishment in Zimbabwe, some legislation must still be repealed to confirm this. Prior to this decision, corporal punishment of children was not fully prohibited in any setting in Zimbabwe. This ruling brings the number of states in which corporal punishment of children is not prohibited in any settings down to 17.

Further information

  • For more information on the legality of corporal punishment of children in Zimbabwe, see our detailed report.
  • For more information on the Constitutional Court decision, see our summary of the ruling.
  • For more information on global progress towards universal and elimination of corporal punishment of children, see our countdown page.