By Watmore Makokoba
Amnesty International says the inconsistencies in Zimbabwean laws are putting the lives of adolescent girls under threat from such diseases as HIV/Aids and even unwanted pregnancies.
The human rights watchdog said the country’s laws have created confusion as to whether people below the age of 18 need parental consent to access sexual health services.
Although the constitution and the 2016 ConCourt judgment on the case of Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi vs State makes it clear that the age of consent is 18 years, most young people are engaging in sexual activities before they attain the age.
In a report titled Lost without knowledge: Barriers to sexual and reproductive health information in Zimbabwe launched today, Amnesty International said there is widespread confusion around the legal age of consent for sex which leaves girls vulnerable.
“This situation is leaving adolescent girls more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and at higher risk of HIV infection.
“As a result, girls face stigma and discrimination, the risk of child marriage, economic hardship and challenges in completing their education,” said the Amnesty International report.
Amnesty International regional director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena urged government to put in place mechanisms to ensure girls under 18 are allowed access to sexual health services to safeguard themselves.
“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.
“While age of consent provisions may be intended to protect against sexual abuse and child marriage, it is unacceptable that they be used to deny adolescents their rights to sexual and reproductive health information and services,” he said.
According to the report, entrenched taboos around adolescent sexuality, and a lack of affordable health-care, are also making it harder for adolescents to access the information and services they need.
According to demographic health data for Zimbabwe, nearly 40% of girls and 24% of boys are sexually active before they reach the age of 18.
The report highlights the widespread misconception that only girls who are already pregnant or married can access contraception and HIV services.
Adolescent pregnancy is a major factor behind Zimbabwe’s high rates of child marriage and maternal mortality. In 2016, 21% of maternal deaths occurred among girls between the ages of 15 and 19.