JUSTICE minister Yvonne Dausab has tabled amendments to the Combating Rape Act of 2000 in the National Assembly.
The tabling of the amendments comes after recent reports of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as protests against these.
The amendments include an additional definition of what constitutes a coercive circumstance for rape, changes in the sentencing for a rape conviction and extends the scope of individuals considered exceptionally vulnerable.
The minister also proposed a new definition pertaining to the use of power or authority to coerce participation in a sexual act.
"The bill provides additional grounds for coercive circumstances for rape and states that 'coercive circumstances' include the abuse of power or authority to such an extent that the person in respect of whom the sexual act is committed is inhibited from indicating his or her resistance to that act or his or her unwillingness to participate in that act," Dausab said.
The bill proposes that the minimum sentence for a first conviction of rape be increased from five to 10 years, while the sentence for rape committed under coercive circumstances be increased from 10 to 15 years.
The bill also proposes an increased sentence for conviction of rape of people recognised as exceptionally vulnerable, including persons with mental or physical disabilities, from a minimum of 15 years to 20 years.
"Statistics show that harsh and lengthy prison sentences do not necessarily deter would-be offenders. However, we should ensure as lawmakers that where an accused is convicted of rape, especially under coercive circumstances, he/she faces the full wrath of the law," Dausab said.
"In our view, and in light of the aggravating cases of rape across the country, these are appropriate penalties to demonstrate that the state takes the offence of rape seriously.
"Our interventions vary from strengthening our legal framework, as we endeavour to do today, to changing attitudes and mindsets through education and awareness raising," she said.
The amendment bill also proposes that the court does not solely rely on physical evidence such as semen or bodily fluids.
"This is a very onerous burden of proof, which has led to the state being unable to prove many rape cases. In light of this, it is necessary to move away from inferences to be drawn from evidence, which can easily be lost, misinterpreted or tampered with," she said.
Further discussion on the bill was postponed to 9 March.
Dausab also urged MPs to take heed of the demands of the #ShutItAllDown movement - a series of youth-led protests which demanded that the government actively address SGBV and femicide in the country.
"We must welcome the #ShutItAllDown protest as a stern reminder that we cannot stand by and watch our women and girls and in some instances, young men and boys, subjected to rape," she said.
Dausab said her ministry will endeavour to enact a national sex offenders register before 31 March 2022, as well as establish a sexual offences court.
The sex offenders register and a dedicated court for sexual offences were among the demands of the anti-SGBV protesters contained in a petition submitted to both the justice ministry and parliament last year.