MASVINGO – There were mixed feelings at a public hearing held in Masvingo yesterday on a petition on whether children below the age of 16 should access reproductive health services or not.
Most parents attending the hearing conducted by a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care were completely against the idea while youthful audience and representatives of NGOs’ demanded a law allowing adolescences to access contraceptives.
The public hearing attracted a packed hall at Mucheke with more than 150 people in attendance.
The hearing was chaired by MDC-T Senator Morgan Femai who was accompanied by nearly 20 legislators and senators among them Chivi North MP Mathias Tongofa.
Many parents argued that opening up contraceptives to children under the age of 16 is like giving them a license to indulge in sex. They also argued that children are going to go wild if they realise that they will get contraceptives and treatment for STIs without the consent of their parents.
The parents urged Government to allow children to focus on school work and not to divert their attention to contraceptives and condoms.
Esther Makoni, a Mucheke resident said it was unfortunate that the Zimbabwean Government is blindly copying western cultures.
“The Government is letting us down by copying what they see in Western countries where these freedoms are given willy-nilly. You must realise that we are different from those countries in many ways hence what fits them does not necessarily fit into our situation. This will destroy the future of our country,” said Makoni.
Ganyai Kanjera, a pastor with ZAOGA said the move is an open invitation to children to indulge in sex. He said there is a time for everything including time for young people to start sex.
However, advocates for change accused those against the Bill of living in denial. They said parents must realise that whether they like it or not their children are indulging in sex at tender ages. They said failure to accept this and take the necessary steps has seen the future of many children going down the drain through early marriages, unwanted pregnancies and getting infected with STIs’ including HIV/Aids
Joseph Njowa of My Age Zimbabwe said the Public Health Act Amendment Bill of 2018 should have no age restriction in terms of accessing reproductive health-care services by children.
He said there should be a legislation that protects health care service providers and third parties from liability where they give reproductive health-care services or consent to provision of such services in matters involving persons under the age of 16.
Chipiwa Mugabe the executive director of Space for Marginalized Groups in Diversity in Zimbabwe Trust said parents are living in denial.
“Parents must know that there are many things happening with their children and these happen even under their own roofs. Parents must know that these children are susceptible to STIs’, unwanted pregnancies and early marriages.
“Parents are destroying their children’s future by not allowing them to access health facilities on things that affect them,” said Mugabe.
She called on the Government to provide youth specific clinics so that they get treated without stereotyping.
A pupil who spoke at the hearing said that even if parents deny it, children are having sex.