The Equality & Justice Alliance (EJA) commissioned Gender Links, a leading Southern African women's rights organisation with offices and partners across the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, to examine Mozambique's reforms of its Penal Code. These reforms, implemented in 2015, significantly update the 1886 Code that was a colonial-era legacy.

This video focuses on the amendments which relate to the EJA's mission to advance equality for all and provide equal protection of the law for all Commonwealth citizens – especially women and girls and LGBT people. It also highlights the challenges that remain in reforming the Penal Code and explores whether the reform went far enough to protect minorities and those most vulnerable. 

“The Penal Code review was necessary... [the 1886 Code] was produced based on the social values of Portuguese colonial society. It was necessary to have a Penal Code that reflected the new social reality in our country.” – Isaque Chande, Ombudsman to the Mozambique Government

According to Mozambique's old Penal Code, sexual assault was defined according to whether the victim was a virgin. While the law now has dispensed with this discriminatory principle, the video notes that in two different sections of the new Penal Code, there are varying definitions of sexual assault and different proscribed punishments – a lack of consistency which is causing confusion.

While the new Code provides greater provisions for victims of domestic violence, there are discrepancies between it and the Domestic Violence Act of 2009. Such anomalies create legal options for cases; judicial officers can choose which law to effect and which sentences to apply. Again, this is obviously less than ideal.

Under the new Code, a woman can have an abortion at up to 12 weeks of pregnancy except in the case of rape, which is then up to 16 weeks. Abortions are free and must be carried out in approved health centres by qualified professionals. This was a major breakthrough at the time of drafting the reforms.

For the Penal Code, the clause outlawing consensual adult same-sex acts was removed, thus decriminalising same-sex conduct. Nevertheless, the video highlights how much work remains to be done until LGBT people have equal access to healthcare, housing, job opportunities and can live their lives without fear of discrimination or harassment.

In the new legislation, human trafficking is recognised as a crime and article 196 outlines all forms of human slavery.

While more must be done to align Mozambique's legislation with the vision and intention to create fairer laws, this reform did mark a major step forward. And work is ongoing – another review of the Penal Code is to take place later this year.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Equality & Justice Alliance Consortium or its partners.