Saturday, November 27

“Contraception Divides Opinion”: Addressing Taboos in Zimbabwe as Teen Pregnancies Rise | Reproductive rights

Malet *, 14, stands in a long line at the Harare maternity clinic. She is here for her routine checkup. Most of the people in the queue are teenagers.

Malet got pregnant the first time she had sex. Your baby will be born in two months.

“I’m sorry today, but I couldn’t get rid of the baby,” says Malet, who lives in Mbare, one of the oldest municipalities in Zimbabwe. “My boyfriend denied responsibility, so I am alone.”

Her parents have agreed to support her and will make sure she returns to school after she has given birth. “I’m glad my parents offered to take care of me and take me back to school. But this is not the same for other girls, who stay with abusive boyfriends. “

Malet’s mother, Gladys Munengami, 40, knows the reason for her daughter’s pregnancy. “Covid-19 has ruined our children. Here in Mbare, many mothers are in pain, these children have begun to experiment with sex and we cannot control them, ”he says.

Between January and February, almost 5,000 teen pregnancies they were registered in Zimbabwe and almost 2,000 girls under the age of 18 were married. According to the World Bank, the country adolescent fertility rate It has been declining in recent years, but there are concerns that the pandemic will reverse the trend.

In an attempt to address the problem, parliamentarians and civil society groups have proposed that those under the age of 16 can obtain contraceptives without parental consent and should be allowed access to abortion services. The age of consent in Zimbabwe is 18 years.

The proposal was rejected by Constantino Chiwenga, Vice President and Minister of Health of Zimbabwe, who said: “Since a child under 16 years of age cannot in practice consent to having sex, it is presumed that a child under 16 years of age does not need contraception.

“Emergency contraceptives would be seen as a form of medical treatment and therefore people under the age of 16 would need parental consent to access them in practice.”

While Chiwenga’s words garnered broad support from Zimbabwe’s overwhelmingly conservative society, where sex is a taboo subject, health workers and teachers say a solution needs to be found.

“The government must do something in the schools or start a program to educate these children at home because we have a serious problem on our hands. Most of these girls are too young to endure labor and that puts them at risk, “a midwife told The Guardian on condition of anonymity.

Some teachers’ organizations have called for the government to allow the distribution of contraceptives to girls in schools.

“The challenge must be faced with honesty and our solutions must aim to safeguard the future of our children, not to postulate ourselves as moralists. Contraceptives will not encourage children to have sex, but they will protect them from early marriages, ”says Obert Masaraure, president of the Association of Amalgamated Rural Teachers.

Masaraure also called for a mandatory sex education program in schools. “We must get out of denial mode and face the reality that our children are engaging in sexual activities.”

However, Raymond Majongwe, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Progressive Teachers Association, called for caution: “This matter must be handled with great care so that we do not open a Pandora’s box. The issue of contraceptives has divided opinion. The most important thing is to be clear about what we want to address. We need to understand [what] we are trying, otherwise it will backfire. “

Ekenia Chifamba, Director of Girl friend, an organization that fights for girls’ rights, says a holistic approach is required to deal with teenage pregnancies. “Making contraceptives available, raising awareness of safe sex and abstinence is the available solution to the dilemma of teenage pregnancy. It is necessary to ensure that these adolescents have access to the sexual and reproductive health information available to them so that they can make informed decisions.

Chifamba says the government’s decision to reject the contraceptive proposal was misinformed. “This is not a move in the right direction. We cannot run from the fact that we need to alleviate the new teen pregnancy pandemic, even if it means moving away from our morals and cultural values. “

Ruth Labode, a congresswoman who has been pushing for the government to allow adolescents to obtain contraception, said: “We will continue to defend and monitor the number of teenage pregnancies, which are increasing.”

* Names have been changed to protect your identity.

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