By Owami Sithole
Adolescents continue to experience challenges in accessing reproductive health services be it in schools and communities because of a limit imposed by the age of consent law in Zimbabwe, COMPASS-ACT has said.
This has led to challenges such as unwanted pregnancies, HIV and AIDS, abortions and STIs among adolescents.
Munyaradzi Chimwara, the Team Leader of the COMPASS-ACT project spearheaded by PEPFAR made a call for establishment of a law that avails compulsory accessibility of reproductive health services among adolescents regardless of their age.
The universal right to access the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care facilities and services is guaranteed by the Constitution of Zimbabwe in section 76.
Chimwara said his organisation is advocating for universal health coverage.
“In Zimbabwe we are looking at access to treatment, access to health facility and the quality of service within the framework of health, mobilising health resources and pushing the Government to provide sufficient budget allocations and also engaging PEPFAR and Global Fund,” said Chimwara.
COMPASS-ACT also does road shows where they engage with civil society organisations on health information advocacy, and work closely with community based organisations.
“This helps us in identifying gaps in various communities which needs attention. Our duty is to provide recommendations to PEPFAR in the areas which need to be addressed on what we call country operating plans,” said Chimwara.
“Anyone below age of 16 or 18 cannot go to a health facility and be treated for diseases such as STIs without the consent of either a parent, guardian or a third party. This has made young people (both boys and girls) vulnerable particularly in an age where these young ones are engaging in sex ualactivities at an early age. This results in issues such as unwanted pregnancy, practice of unsafe backyards abortions, schools drooping outs and so forth,” he said.
“At present, anyone below the age of 16 or 18 cannot access sexual reproductive health rights. This led us to engaged with chiefs in addressing the issues. We want to drop the sex part as we are mainly looking at reproductive health information accessibility among adolescents hence reproductive health speaks to biology development within the body like puberty stage,” Chimwara said
He went on to say that in spite of Section 76 and 81 (f) guaranteeing health care service including sexual reproductive health, the setting of a legal minimum age in accessing health service has become a hindrance taking into consideration that a 14 year old cannot access contraceptives. The age barrier which was set by the policy bars adolescents from accessing services.
“Services such as contraceptives, clinical trials, antenatal care, termination of pregnancy, HIV testing and circumcision have a legal framework on who can access them.
COMPASS-ACT has set a policy brief which they are pushing through the Junior Parliament which advocates for age of consent to access comprehensive information on reproductive health.
“We are pushing for an environment where access is made to minors without parental consent to give full effect of the section 76 part 1 of the Constitution which states that every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to have access to basic health-care services, including reproductive health-care services.
“Government should remove the age of consent to access information on reproductive health. There should be a law which protects service providers when it come to a situation where they may offer service to minors,” Chimwara added.