By Perseverance Javangwe
The proposed amendments to the Public Health Act aimed at creating a law that allows children as young as 12 years old to access contraceptives has been condemned by some sections, this publication can reveal.
The growing numbers of pregnant school going girls who drop out of schools have been a cause for concern. In a survey conducted by this publication teenage girls are engaging in sexual activities as early as 10years and this has resulted in the Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care advocating for contraceptives to children as young as 12 years.
However, Sheila Maredzo who spoke with this reporter rebuked this stance and stated that there is no need for introducing contraceptives to 12-year-olds because they are not even at a stage where they can sustain these contraceptives.
“Sex for children as young as 12years, is it sex? It’s experimenting, zvamaiita kumahumbwe (what you did as little babies). There is nothing new under the sun, vanhu vaiita mahumbwe (playing baby games) you would react the scene by showing out your organs at times but it was just that and nothing more. Now makuda kuuraya vana vadiki (you want to destroy young children’s lives). I still say NO, concerned mother of 4,” she said.
Robert Chauke asked whether the Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care has conducted researches first before coming up with the idea.
“Will the contraceptives be limited to condoms only? Besides other factors, what are the health implications of contraceptives on the bodies of the children? That’s one of my questions. Who has conducted a study to assess that? We cannot rush to give children contraceptives without a major study, research to assess without bias any health implications. If these contraceptives have such negative health implications on adults, what about children?” asked Chauke.
A petition has been rolled out by the Voice of The Mothers to Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care and Thematic Committee on HIV AIDS rebuking the premature access to contraceptives.
“Protect the Children of Zimbabwe, Say NO to Premature Access to Contraceptives. We say NO to the proposed amendments to the Public Health Act aimed at creating a law that allows children as young as 12 years old to have access to Reproductive Health Services, without parental consent, in particular contraceptives.
“The Constitution of Zimbabwe defines a child to be a boy or girl under the age of 18 years of age. The State has to adopt policies and measures to ensure the best interest of the child, enjoyment of family or parental care among other rights. The Law further makes it an offence to have consensual sex with a young person under the age of 16 years. Case law recognizes that children under18 years of age are invariably physically, physiologically and psychologically immature to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage and child bearing. As it is, the law should increase the age of sexual consent as opposed to tacitly lowering it by allowing children to access contraceptives. It is crucial that our laws are aligned to ensure that marriageable age and age of sexual consent are the same at 18,” reads the petition which was received by this reporter.
The petition by the Voices of the Mothers stated that there is need to align marriageable and age of sexual consent to 18 years instead of focusing on introducing contraceptives for 12-year-olds.
“Our National Statistics suggest that the median age at first intercourse for women in Zimbabwe is 18.7 years. 6%percent of women age 25-49 have had sexual intercourse before age 15, and40% before age 18. 43% of the females and 5% of the males aged 13-17 years who had their sexual debut in the 12 months preceding the survey, had unwanted first sexual intercourse, that is, they were forced, pressured, tricked or threatened to engage in sexual intercourse. Another study by the Ministry of Health shows that 0.2% of children aged 10-14 years old were ever pregnant and 33% of adolescent girls aged 18-19 years.
“This information does not justify putting into law children as young as 12 to access contraceptives. If anything, the surveys confirm the need to align marriageable and age of sexual consent to 18 years. The surveys further suggest that a lack of education and poverty are key drivers of premature sexual encounters. Children in rural communities have also been more prone to childhood pregnancy than their urban counterparts. It is these factors among other key ones that need to be addressed to limit the vulnerability of young persons,” reads the petition.
Junior Brigadier General Dylan Chiponda condemned the introduction of contraceptives to 12-year-olds. He said that there is need for Sexual Reproductive Health education citing that the contraceptives are not proper for their health and that they act as a prerogative move to promote sexual acts amongst the young ones.
“When we say that contraceptives must be given from 12years, it is making stupidity a profit and intelligence a loss. This means that now children are allowed to indulge in sexual activities without being asked a good case and a case which is preposterous. Where are we heading towards empowering children’s rights, where are we heading as a nation, nowhere? Are we seeing those children as wives or sexual instruments? These contraceptives are not even healthy to children, their immune system is not strong to accept them. This is making room for abuse and child sexual exploitation which is not good and we are saying children can now have access to sex. I can sum up all this in three words, we’re going nowhere,” he said.
Roseline Chiutsi a former junior councillor for ward 8, Amaveni in Kwekwe supported Chiponda’s view.
“…it seems to me like people want to promote sex amongst us as children and increase the risk of STIs thereby spreading HIV because if you give a 12-year-old pills to avoid getting pregnant, it actually sounds as if you are permitting her to have sex,” said Chiutsi.
According to the petition if the amendment succeeds that will give children the chance to disobey their parents thereby neglecting the instructions of the bible.
“This agenda if allowed will succeed to: a) Weaken the pillar of the family, b) To remove children from the blessing of honouring and obeying their parents, c) To remove the fear of God by defiling the marriage bed. We as children of God, will be counted righteous based on what sin we reject. Our resistance and intercession will save many souls. 1 Corinthians 6:12,”Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”–but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body,” read the petition.
The Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care is moving in different parts of the country to hear people’s view on the proposed amendment in order to map the way forward.