Thandeka Moyo, Health Reporter
ABOUT 40 percent of adolescents in Zimbabwe become sexually active before they reach the age of 18, a development which compromises their health.
According to Amnesty International, some laws and sexual taboos in Zimbabwe put the health and future of adolescent girls, those between 10 and 19 years, at risk.
In a report released this week titled “Lost without knowledge: Barriers to sexual and reproductive health information in Zimbabwe”, the organisation urged the Government to raise the legal age of consent to 18 years in line with the constitution
“The reality is that many adolescents are sexually active before they are 18 and the Government must act to ensure that they can access the services and advice they need to help safeguard their health and their futures,” said Mr Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for Southern Africa.
“Adolescent girls are being put at risk of harmful consequences, including dying in childbirth in Zimbabwe because inconsistent laws make it harder for them to access sexual and reproductive health information and services.”
Findings from a survey Amnesty International conducted last year in Zimbabwe shows that many girls in the age group are forced into early marriage.
“Despite significant efforts to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 960 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2010 to 651 in 2016, one fifth of maternal deaths occur among girls aged 15-19,” it said.
The report said rates of adolescent pregnancy and HIV are increasing, coinciding with declining rates of knowledge related to sexual and reproductive health.
It said although Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of contraceptive use in Southern Africa, unmarried adolescents who want to prevent pregnancies are not accessing the contraceptives they need. Adolescents are also said to be at high risk of maternal morbidities, including obstetric fistula.
The report said nearly 40 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys are sexually active before they reach the age of 18.
“Despite this reality, Amnesty International’s findings illustrate a disturbing context of isolation from sexual and reproductive health services and information that adolescent girls face in Zimbabwe. Almost all adolescent girls who participated in the study demonstrated deeply concerning knowledge gaps regarding how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV,” reads the report.
Zimbabwe, according to the organisation, does not have a specific law to govern the age at which children may consent to medical procedures, including services related to their sexual or reproductive health.
“Existing laws which are directly or indirectly related to adolescents’ access for sexual or reproductive health services and information do little to clarify confusions and break existing restrictions on access. The situation is worsened by the fact the debate on the appropriate age of consent for sex and marriage rages on,” reads the report.