Teens demand contraceptives to curb early pregnancy

By Tinashe Mungazi

Young people in Hwange and Binga are demanding access to Sexual Reproductive Rights Services (SRHS) such as contraceptives and HIV testing arguing they will curb early pregnancies and marriages.

Speaking during a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Health and Child Care public hearing in Hwange today the youths argued that blocking access to was fueling teen pregnancies and school dropouts. 

According to the committee chairperson, Dr David Parirenyatwa, parliament resolved to hold public hearing following numerous petitions from young people on the need to revise the Public Health Act to make it inclusive of teenagers to access SRHS.

The current law prohibits children under the age of 18 to access such services and as such the youths want the restrictions to be removed or lowered to 12 years.

“Parliament was petitioned by a number interest groups around the issues of access to Sexual Reproductive Rights Services by young people. It was noted by the petitioners that 1 in 5 teenagers end up falling pregnant before the age of 18 years while the national rate is at 21.5 percent. 

They said unintended pregnancies is a cause for early marriage with 70 000 illegal abortions happening every year. There is a high school dropouts because of the unintended pregnancies and given that 15 percent of young people make up the mortality rate. There also noted that there is a high HIV incident rate amongst the adolescents. 

To that end, they are calling for the amending of the Public Health Act with no restrictions on access of SRHS to persons aged 12 years, HIV testing, pre and post counseling and contraceptives or any other pregnancy prevention methods. This is the reason why we are here to hear your views,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.

The adolescents said as long as restrictions on accessing SRHS continued the problem of teen pregnancies and marriages would be difficult to control.

“As we speak the reality on the ground shows us that the numbers of early pregnancies are increasing as well as abortions with children as young as 12 years. This has given rise to unintended pregnancies, children without anyone to take responsibility as a father. We want you to allow us to get access to comprehensive SRHS which include contraceptives, HIV testing and information. The way we are treated at the health facilities when we go seeking for services such as testing we are harassed and asked many questions. Some end up making us to seek drastic health personnel who conduct these services should be protected and allowed to do so,” said Daniel Sibanda from Young People’s Network.

Another youth, Michelle Ndlovu said the health personnel at public facilities were fueling violations of access to SRHS by adolescent by frustrating them into not coming for treatment at these institutions.

“There is harassment of young people at public health centre when one is asking for certain services such as HIV testing or to seek information. As young people we must get these services such as consultation and testing because if we do not it has detrimental effects because of lack of information on SRHS. I have a right to know my status and as nation, we are saying by 2023 everyone should know his or her status however with the current setup that is not going to materialize. We call for the removal of age restriction on young people to access these services as adolescents we must be able to access condoms or family planning pills.”

The teens said accessing these services would go a long way in curbing teen pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) amongst young people.

“What we are saying is that information is power and if young people are allowed services such as education, contraceptives for prevention as well testing for HIV and treatment of STIs. Our parents need to understand that teens are indulging in sex whether they like it or not and they should be part of the solution of ensuring they don’t end up facing risks such as dying during childbirth or abortions.

They said abuse and cover up of sexual crimes against teens was high as denial to access SRHS was protecting perpetrators.

Rosemary Maketo who was representing Young People Living With Disabilities called for an all inclusive approach in ensuring access to reproductive rights arguing that services were supposed to be user friendly for this group.

“Persons Living With Disabilities are often forgotten when it comes to accessing SRHS and this also includes young people. We want to call on government to ensure that we are able to also access these services without difficulties as we are also sexually active though disabled. We call on user-friendly services such as access to disability friendly information through sign language for the hearing impaired. We also call on authorities to ensure that cases of sexual violations against adolescent with disabilities are dealt with expeditiously and with minimum or no harassment of victims.” 

However, some parents who attended the hearings objected to calls for teens to be allowed to access contraceptives arguing that it amounted to giving them ticket to engage in premature sex.

“Allowing children as young as 12 years to indulge in sexual activities we will be promoting child prostitution and trafficking. If we are a country that as its future in children we need to ensure that we protect them not by giving them contraceptives but through guidance. We want them to go to school to learn and have a bright future as compared to being encouraged to have teenage sex through passing of such laws. The move to do that is Satanism and should not be allowed as it will destroy the moral fabric as we are a Christian nation,” said Stella Mpofu.

Another parent who identified himself as Joe Phiri said allowing 12 year olds to access condoms and family planning was giving in to foreign cultures that were slowly taking over African ones. While some said the side effects associated with use of contraceptives such as pills was likely to double in teens exposing them to cancer.

Pastor Emmanuel Nkomo said encouraging children to indulge in sexual activities was in violation of God’s laws and culture which were the tenets of the country’s identity.

“As a Christian nation allowing such things that give rise to promiscuity is against God’s laws even our culture as Zimbabweans. We will fall short of losing our identity what we stand for as a people. What we should be doing is finding counsel from the Word of God which already advised us on how we should raise our children. There are other ways of dealing with these teen pregnancies than introducing laws that promotes immorality under the guise of fixing another problem.” 

A recent spike in school drops as a result of teen pregnancies and early marriages have left authorities baffled with Covid 19 induced lockdown exacerbating the problem.

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