By Gracious Ndlovu and Tatenda Mkandawire
PARENTS and guardians 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 have access to contraceptives.
The parents and guardians are deeply divided over the issues, with those opposed arguing that such a move would have a negative impact on the development of children.
A heated debate ensued over the proposal at a meeting at Agape Mission at Nkayi Centre, chaired by Senator David Parirenyatwa.
Chief Siansali from Binga, who also presided over the hearing, stated that the petition was 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 fuelled by alarming statistics revealing a 21,5% teenage pregnancy rate coupled with a high mortality rate,” he said.
“Currently, the law prohibits children below the age of 18 to access SRH (sexual and reproductive health), 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.”
However, most of the parents in Nkayi vehemently rejected the proposal to allow the use of contraceptives by children below the age of 18.
They argued that the contraceptives had side effects.
Nosizi Ncube said the side effects would most likely be more serious in young girls.
Ncube pointed out that 12 years was too low an age to access 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.”
Ncube added that: “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.”
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,” Nkomo said.
Nkomo’s comments were strongly opposed by youths and education representatives at the meeting.
“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 contraception?” asked one of the youths advocating for the removal of the age restrictions.
A representative of Young People’s Network, Nkosilathi Mowa, highlighted important issues around access to sexual reproductive health services.
“One in every five 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,” Mowa said.
Amid disgruntled murmurs, one teenager said parents should accept that their children were already sexually active by the age of 12.
Advocating for the removal of the age restrictions to allow children from the age of 12 to be allowed to access SRH, HIV and contraceptive services, the teenager said the early sexual activity was influenced by technology and the food they were eating.