By Gracious Ndlovu and Tatenda Mkandawire
Parents in Nkayi district have expressed mixed feelings over the proposal by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on health and Child Care to allow children from the age of 12 to access contraceptive services.
A section of parents argued that such a move would have a negative impact on the development of children. However, speaking at the same tense hearing, some parents welcomed the move.
The hearings took place at Agape Mission at Nkayi Centre and were chaired by Honourable David Parirenyatwa.
Chief Siansali from Binga, who presided over the hearing clearly stated that the petition is not meant to change the age of consent.
“The proposal is not an attempt to change the current age of consent for marriage but the petition was necessitated and fueled by alarming statistics revealing a 21.5 percent teenage pregnancy rate coupled with a high mortality rate.”
Chief Siyansani weighed in to acknowledge the lobbying for children under 18 to gain access to contraceptives by some pressure groups.
“Currently, the law prohibits children below the age of 18 to access SRH, HIV and contraceptive services without parental company. This is being pointed at by various pressure groups like Sexual and Reproductive Rights Services for young people as a major cause for teenage pregnancies and HIV incidence rates”, said Chief Siyansani.
A considerably large group of parents in Nkayi vehemently rejected the move to allow use of contraceptives to children below the age of 18. They argued that these contraceptives have side effects.
Nosizi Ncube, a parent said since these contraceptives are known to affect grown women, they may be more likely to cause worse damage in young girls. Ncube asserted that 12 years is a very low age for SRH and HIV services.
” We cannot allow children to access (SRHS) such as contraceptives from the tender age of 12 because that would destroy family values. This would be against the spirit of conservative norms and values of the Ndebele people and Zimbabwe as a whole. Parents should always accompany children to clinics and hospitals in such matters to avoid victimisation from health care workers as well as to assist the child in taking medication. A 12 year child is not mature enough to religiously follow what he/she would have been instructed to do by the health workers, therefore there is need for parents to accompany their children to clinics or hospitals.”
” We are seeing a lot of deaths because if a child finds out that she is not well and goes to the hospital and is given medication, that child will not take that medication freely. Such a child may not take the medicine at all because she would be hiding it from the parent out of fear,”, she added.
Another parent, Samkeliso Nkomo said allowing young children access to sexual reproductive health services would affect family values.
“The process of children accessing medical services alone might give them insights to sexual endeavour”, said Nkomo.
However, Nkomo’s comment was strongly opposed by youths and education representatives.
“Which one is better? To find out that your child is sexually active upon falling pregnant or contracting HIV, or finding out that they are sexually active but are protecting themselves due to access and education on SRH, HIV and contaception?”, rhetorically asked a young man who is advocating for the removal of any age restriction on access to all contraceptive services to children from the age of 12.
A representative of Young People’s Network, Nkosilathi Mowa highlighted important issues around access to sexual reproductive health services.
” One in every 5 teenagers falls pregnant before the age of 18 and there has also been an increase in deaths of young girls due to complications in illegal abortions and contraceptive measures due to lack of access to proper education and services on sexual and reproductive health to children who are already sexually active”, said Mowa.
One teenager who stood up was sharply shot down by disgruntled moans from the gathering when she said parents should accept that their children are already sexually active by the age of 12 due to a number of reasons including technology and foods we eat, hence the need to have full unrestricted access to SRH, HIV and contraceptive services to children from the age of 12 in Nkayi.