YOUNG people with disabilities are finding it difficult to access sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services during the prevailing lockdown period due to a myriad of factors, chief among them being failure to participate in social spaces where SRHR information is provided.
By Michael Gwarisa
Speaking during a virtual meeting on ending teenage pregnancies which was hosted by Plan International Zimbabwe under the theme “Unraveling the thread of teenage pregnancies during COVID 19,” Social Worker with JF Kapnek, Adam Mukushi said the COVID-19 had presented numerous challenges for disabled young people especially around access to essential SRHR services.
Generally, there is an increase in SGBV cases wherever there is an emergency situation and we have not been spared during this COVID-19. In terms of children with disabilities, even without emergencies they depend on other people which makes them vulnerable.
“In terms of navigating social spaces, they face a lot of discrimination which reduces their self confidence and then there is also inaccessibility of services which actually make them more vulnerable. There is the issue of service and access costs which again result in children with disabilities being on the receiving end in term of not accessing services,” said Mukushi.
He added that communication challenges also made it difficult for disabled young people to navigate the social spaces, be it physical or virtual spaces.
“There is also communication challenges with the services providers and also their counterparts without disabilities. There is also shame associated with disability which result in them being confined in their homes because their parents are ashamed of them in the community.
“In terms of social spaces, social spaces are spaces where people gather and interact to share ideas, build each other, to share experiences. Children usually when they are in Social Spaces, they help each other and sometimes even encourage each other to report sexual abuses during emergencies. Children with disabilities are not really participating in social spaces as a result of the different factors highlighted.”
He also said children with disabilities have not been able to fully participate in both physical and virtual social spaces.
“In terms of physical spaces, children and young people with disabilities have not been able to fully participate in these spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Firstly, it is due the issue of mobility challenges especially for those with physical disabilities they have not been able to move around to get to places where people gather and interact and there is also transport problems especially looking at the issue of wheelchairs, children have to cater for their bus fare and then an extra charge for the wheelchair an in other cases they have to travel with someone who has to assist them in terms of communication and navigation and the charges go up.”
The issue of travel documents has also been a challenge in terms of accessing the physical social spaces. Mukushi added that some institutions lake the infrastructure such as ramps which discourages young people from visiting the institutions. He also said there is also the issue of long distances and most institutions do not have service providers who are able to communicate with disabled young people such as sigh language interpreters among others.
“In terms of virtual social spaces, there applications where young people meet. These include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp. Key challenges that young people face in terms of navigating the social spaces include technological illiteracy, many of them have not been availed an opportunity to go to school so in terms of literacy, especially technological literacy, they are nor privileged to actually participate.
“Then there is also the issue of devices that can go online and also the issue of access fees in terms of airtime and data. There is also discrimination which happens online and sometimes it discourages people with disabilities to participate.”
Meanwhile, JF Kapnek Trust has been running disability service fairs which are mobile service provision initiatives whereby they move with key service providers into the communities. Some of the services that they receive include psychosocial support, HIV testing, counseling, SRH information among others