Contraception divides opinion: tackling taboos in Zimbabwe as teenage pregnancies skyrocket | Reproductive rights
Malet *, 14, stands in line at the maternity hospital in Harare. She’s there for her routine checkup. Most of the people in the queue are teenage girls.
Malet got pregnant the first time she had sex. Her baby is due in two months.
âI regret it today, but I couldn’t get rid of the baby,â says Malet, who lives in Mbare, one of Zimbabwe’s oldest townships. “My boyfriend has denied any responsibility, so I’m on my own.”
Her parents have agreed to support her and will ensure that she returns to school after giving birth. âI’m glad my parents offered to take care of me and take me back to school. But it’s not the same for other girls, who stay with violent boyfriends.
Malet’s mother, Gladys Munengami, 40, knows the reason for her daughter’s pregnancy. âThe Covid-19 has ruined our children. Here in Mbare, a lot of mothers are suffering, these children have started to experiment with sex and we cannot control them, âshe said.
Between January and February, nearly 5,000 teenage pregnancies were recorded in Zimbabwe and nearly 2,000 girls under the age of 18 were married. According to the World Bank, the country’s teenage fertility rate has declined in recent years, but there are fears the pandemic may reverse the trend.
In an attempt to address the problem, lawmakers and civil society groups have proposed that young people under the age of 16 be able to obtain contraceptives without parental consent and be allowed to access abortion services. The age of consent in Zimbabwe is 18.
The proposal was rejected by Constantino Chiwenga, Zimbabwe’s Vice President and Minister of Health, who said: âSince a child under 16 cannot consent to sex in practice, it is assumed that a child under 16 does not need contraceptives.
âEmergency contraceptives would be considered 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 remarks have received broad support from largely conservative society in Zimbabwe, where sex is a taboo subject, health workers and teachers say a solution must be found.
âThe government needs to do something in the schools or start a home education program for these children because we have a serious problem in our hands. Most of these girls are too young to endure the labor and it puts them at risk, âa midwife told The Guardian on condition of anonymity.
Some teachers’ organizations have called on the government to allow the distribution of contraceptives to girls in schools.
âThe challenge must be taken up with honesty and our solutions must be aimed at safeguarding the future of our children, and not at posing as moralists. Contraceptives will not encourage children to have sex, but will protect them from early marriage, âsays Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Association.
Masaraure also called for a compulsory sex education program in schools. “We should step out of denial mode and face the reality that our children are engaging in sexual activity.”
However, Raymond Majongwe, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Progressive Teachers Association, called for caution: âThis matter must be treated with the utmost caution for fear of opening a Pandora’s Box. The question of contraceptives divided opinions. The most important thing is to be clear on what we want to tackle. We have to understand [what] we deal, otherwise it will backfire on us.
Ekenia Chifamba, director of Shamwari Yemwanasikana, an organization fighting for girls’ rights, says a holistic approach to dealing with teenage pregnancy is needed. âMaking contraceptives available, raising awareness of safe sex and abstinence is the available solution to the teenage pregnancy dilemma. It is necessary to ensure that these adolescents have access to information on sexual and reproductive health so that they can make informed decisions.
Chifamba says the government’s decision to scrap the contraceptive proposal was misinformed. âThis is not a step in the right direction. We cannot run away from the fact that we need to mitigate the new teenage pregnancy pandemic, even if it means moving away from our moral and cultural values. “
Ruth Labode, an MP who has been pushing for the government to allow adolescent girls to obtain contraceptives, said: âWe will continue to advocate and monitor the number of teenage pregnancies, which is increasing.
* Names have been changed to protect their identity.