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Teenage pregnancies and the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections are threatening the social fabric of Matabeleland. Victims blame ignorance.
GWANDA (The Citizen Bulletin) — At the age of 13, still a very ambitious and stubborn teen, Nanae Dlomo* chose to stay behind in the city with her father after her parents separated.
She did not like the idea of moving back to the village with her mother and her younger siblings. Dlomo’s upbringing had a negative impact on her social life and she ended up getting pregnant at an early age.
“Without a mother, I had no one else to guide me and teach me about sex and contraceptives. I’m in this predicament because of that,” says Dlomo.
Dlomo, just like many other teenage mothers in Gwanda, strongly believes that inadequate information on contraceptives has led to high teenage pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
Another young woman, Mirriam Ndlovu*, says she got infected with an STI due to inadequate information on how to protect herself.
“If l had known, l would have made informed choices on sexual and reproductive health,” she says. “But I didn’t have enough information then.”
In Matabeleland South, research shows that school children, especially girls, engage in sexual intercourse at an early age. The situation is the same in the northern side of the region.
Matabeleland South and North provinces are hit particularly hard by teenage pregnancies and STIs. Illustration generated using AI/The Citizen Bulletin
In November 2022, a nine-year-old girl from Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North, became Zimbabwe’s youngest mother after she gave birth to a baby girl through a surgical operation.
During the same year, a 13-year-old girl from Mkhosana Township in Victoria Falls wrote part of her final Grade 7 examinations on a hospital bed soon after giving birth at Victoria Falls Hospital.
In the case above, the girl was not aware that she was pregnant until a month before giving birth.
Community leaders have raised concern about the record highs in pregnancies and the prevalence of STIs among teenagers.
Gwanda Mayor, Councilor Njabulo Siziba says children have to be educated at a tender age about the dangers of engaging in sexual activities.
“I believe it’s important to educate our children about the dangers of engaging in sexual intercourse at an early age,” Siziba says.
“If they are empowered with relevant information they will be able to protect themselves from early pregnancies and STIs,” he adds.
Victoria Falls City Council Chairperson for Health, Housing and Community Councillor Nkanyiso Sibindi says a number of community-led interventions must be rolled out to eliminate teenage pregnancies.
“There are several interventions that can be implemented to end teenage pregnancies. These include awareness campaigns on the use of contraceptives and recreational activities to keep teenagers occupied as well as finding scholarships for them (teenagers) so that they further their studies.”
Nkanyiso Sibindi, Vic Falls Chairperson for Health, Housing and Community
As Zimbabwe grapples with an alarmingly high number of teenage pregnancies, public health advocates are pressing the central government to give adolescents access to reproductive health services and education to avoid teenage pregnancies.
At the core of their campaign is the argument that adolescents under 16 — the age of sexual consent in Zimbabwe — should have access to those services without their parents’ permission.
But they are running into fierce opposition from the government, and cultural and religious leaders, who say such a move would only encourage more adolescents to have sex.
From 2015 to 2020, Zimbabwe recorded an adolescent birth rate of 86 per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19, according to a study released by the United Nations Children’s Fund in May 2021.
Although the U.N agency says birth rates among teenagers have dropped by almost 20% worldwide when compared with a similar study from 2000 to 2005, Zimbabwe’s rate is still extremely high, nearly twice the global average of 44 births per 1,000 adolescents.
Sithembiso Nyoni, the Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, told Parliament in March 2021 that Zimbabwe recorded nearly 5,000 new teenage pregnancies between January and March that year.
In June 2020, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, and the Thematic Committee on HIV and AIDS asked Parliament to amend Section 35 of the Public Health Act, the area of the law that addresses informed consent.
The Committees recommended that the law be updated to allow adolescents under 16 to access reproductive health services without parental consent.
Vice President Constantino Guvheya Chiwenga, who also doubles up as the Minister of Health and Child Care, rejected the Committees’ recommendation. He told Parliament that although Section 35 doesn’t explicitly address access to reproductive health services for adolescents under 16, they are children and therefore require parental consent.
Giving reproductive health services to minors also has social consequences, Chiwenga argued then.
The Citizen Bulletin was not able to obtain aggregated data on teenage pregnancy or the prevalence of STIs in Matabeleland South and North.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dlomo* and Ndlovu* requested their names to be changed for ethical reasons.
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