analysisBy Richard Lee
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe ruled today that the State was liable for failing to provide a rape survivor with emergency contraception and ordered the government to pay damages.
"The Supreme Court judgment is a significant victory for women's sexual and reproductive rights in Zimbabwe," said Nyasha Chingore, project lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which supported the case. "This ruling sends a clear signal that it is time for the Zimbabwean government to prioritise the rights of women, particularly the survivors of sexual and gender based violence - it has failed them too many times in the past."
The precedent-setting case was launched by Mildred Mapingure, who was raped in 2006. She sought emergency contraception within 72 hours to ensure that she did not become pregnant. However, Mapingure failed to access the emergency contraception in time due to delays at the police station, the police's failure to provide her with proper information, and a doctor's inability to distinguish between termination of pregnancy and emergency contraception.
Having failed to prevent the pregnancy, Mapingure sought a lawful termination: as a victim of rape she is eligible for an abortion under Zimbabwe's Termination of Pregnancy Act. But due to judicial delays, she was unable to obtain the necessary court order in time and eventually gave birth.
The Court dismissed a second claim arguing that the State was liable for failing to ensure a timeous termination of pregnancy, and thus had to provide maintenance for the child.
The case was referred back to the High Court for a determination of the quantum of damages.