THE Parliamentary portfolio committee on Health and the Thematic Committee on HIV and AIDS have recommended that the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) should amend Section 35 of the current Public Health Act of 2018 which limits the age to accessing Reproductive Health Care Services to 16 years.
By Michael Gwarisa
This development follows a petition that was delivered to Parliament in 2020 by the Advocacy Core Team (ACT) in September, 2020 where they sought to have age restrictions on consent to accessing reproductive health care services by adolescents and young persons in Zimbabwe removed. The Advocacy Core Team in their argument also indicated that the requirement of consent was also limiting Health Care Service Providers from effectively attending to adolescents when providing Reproductive Health Care Services due to inadequate legal protection where services are rendered without the legal consent.
However, should the recommendations by the two committees be honored, young people below the age of 16 would no longer require the presence of an adult to access Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services and also healthcare service providers who would have offered services to adolescents would also be protected by law.
A joint report that has been released by the Portfolio Committees on Health and HIV after conducting public hearings countrywide indicate that even though there were disagreements in some quarters of society, there was a general consensus that young people have become more sexually active and there was need to prevent the surge in teen pregnancies, Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV infections in that age group.
Adolescents are not a homogenous group of people, hence the MoHCC should provide case by case assessment of this diverse group in order to provide for their varying SRHR needs especially the at-risk adolescents and young persons by December 2021.
“The MoHCC should amend Section 35 of the Public Health Act to provide SRHR services for young people under the age of 18 years and provide for the protection of the service providers by June 2022. Furthermore, service providers should be trained on how to provide friendly SRHR services to adolescents and young persons by April 2022. The MoHCC should embark on awareness campaigns on SRHR issues for young persons in Zimbabwe by August 2022,” said the Joint Report.
They added that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and MoHCC should also immediately ensure that pregnant girls in school access SRHR services without difficulties.
“MoHCC should ensure that adolescents and young persons friendly corners are established where it is convenient for them to access the SRHR services by June 2022. The custodians of culture and religion should not tire in strengthening their systems in the upbringing of children and should continue to preach the abstinence message in order to instill moral values in children.
“The Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation should provide recreational facilities for adolescents and young persons in Zimbabwe in order to occupy themselves reasonably by December 2022. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development should allocate substantial budget to the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare in the 2022 National Budget to enable it to provide the social protection measures for the vulnerable adolescents and young persons in Zimbabwe in meeting their financial needs.”
They also recommended that the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs should immediately expedite the amendment of relevant legislations to provide for more deterrent sentences to perpetrators of child sexual abuse or rapists or child sexual exploitation.
Meanwhile, the committees also noted that apart from the restrictive legal framework, culture, religion and the judgmental attitudes of the service providers act as barriers impeding adolescents and young persons in Zimbabwe from accessing SRHR services.
“Most young women, adolescents and youths who participated during the public hearings were in support of the petition while older women, men and religious leaders formed majority of the resenting voice.
“While parents/guardians, culture and religion play a very important role in the upbringing of children, statistics have shown that adolescents and young persons in Zimbabwe are indulging in early sexual intercourse when they are ill-prepared for the risks associated with such behavior, hence the petition to Parliament. Some of the young people could not express their opinions freely in the presence of their elders and religious leaders during the public hearings.”
Click Link Below To Get The Joint Report: