Zimbabwe High Court declares corporal punishment unconstitutional

On 28 February 2017, the High Court of Zimbabwe ruled that parents and teachers who inflicted corporal punishment on children were in breach of the 2013 Constitution. Indeed, the new Constitution guarantees people’s right to protection from “physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (section 53) and from “all forms of violence from public or private sources” (section 52(a)). The Court also held that article 69(2)(c) of the Education Act, which authorised corporal punishment in schools, was unconstitutional.

Although the text of the ruling is not yet available, it can be speculated that the reasoning behind this decision of unconstitutionality is similar to the 2014 High Court case, in which judicial corporal punishment was deemed unconstitutional.

In Zimbabwe, all decisions of unconstitutionality must be confirmed by the Constitutional Court. In 2015, the Constitutional Court provisionally suspended the 2014 High Court ruling, stating that until a decision was reached magistrates could still impose corporal punishment on male juvenile offenders. At the time the Court called for more diverse views on corporal punishment before being able to render a judgement.

For now, the recent High Court ruling has not been referred to the Constitutional Court.

Although the Government had previously said that any law reform would have to await the outcome of the pending Constitutional Court judgment, the Health Minister commented on 3 March 2017 that the Government was studying the ruling and considering enacting a legal ban of all corporal punishment of children.

In Zimbabwe, corporal punishment of children has not been fully prohibited in any setting. For more information on the legality and prevalence of corporal punishment, see our country report on Zimbabwe.