[dropcap]THERE[/dropcap] should be no specific age of consent on access to sexual reproductive health services while the statutory age for sexual activities should remain at 16.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
This was said by parliamentarians, High School pupils, peer educators, and health civil society organisations following reports that some were lobbying for age of consent on sex be reduced to 12 years.
Health and Child Care Parliamentary Portfolfio Committee chair Dr Ruth Labode told HealthTimes that she was not for reducing the age of consensual sex to 12 from 16 years. She cleared the air saying that she was lobbying for the 12 year olds to have easy access to medical services and information.
At a media forum organized by Right Here Right Now, a consortium of organisations which advocates for youth-friendly sexual health reproductive services, Dr Labode said the matter is not about reducing age of consent on access to health for minors but making these sexual health reproductive services availed to all.
“Maybe I did think we should review that we should reduce the access to health on minors to 12. Now I am agreeing with everybody who says lets even remove the 12. Let’s just say if a child goes to a health facility and says I am sexually active I want family planning. Because the child is already sexually active let them receive it irrespective of their age.
“We are even hearing from the young peer educator that children as young as seven, eight, nine are sexually active, for me it’s to protect them from dying. While I acknowledge they are minors, and maybe their rights must be consented by their parents, but already they have overtaken that right on their own,” she said.
A university of Zimbabwe social science lecturer Dr Vincent Mabvurira said people often misconstrue age of consent to sex and age of consent to health services access.
“There is age of consent to sex, then there is age of consent to sexual and reproductive health. Those are two different things. And most people assume that when we talk of age of consent to sex we are also talking of age of consent to sexual and reproductive health.
“I have some definitions. When we say age of consensual sex, it refers to a woman’s age considered to have the capacity to consent to sex. Then there is the age of consent to sexual and reproductive health. There are issues involved like at what age should children consent to having an HIV test. At what age should children consent to initiation of art? So these are the issues that are touched even on safe abortion,” he said.
He also said other countries are doing well in terms of ensuring their children have access to health services.
Other contributors also said that it was worrying that these children had to be denied access to health for their age at health facilities when they would have been impregnated and or infected with STIs by cross border drivers. The issue of early child marriages was discussed as well with a Muzarabani legislator saying his area has the highest rate.
A speaker from Kastwe Sisterhood also touched on the legal loopholes and what other countries are doing in dealing with age of consensual sex.