LEGISLATORS were last week told that between 30 and 40% teenagers were already sexually active and urgently required information on sexual reproductive health and contraception to protect them against HIV and Aids and other sexually transmitted infections.
This came out during a workshop organised for eight parliamentary committees by the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) and Population Services Zimbabwe (PSZ).
ZNFPC adolescents and youth sexual reproductive health officer, Marian Hellen Machimbirike, told legislators that latest statistics indicated that 40% girls and 30% boys were sexually active before the age of 18 years.
“Sexually transmitted diseases prevalence among adolescent girls (2015) is 9% compared to 8% among adolescent boys,” Machimbirike said.
“At national level, 13% of adolescents aged 15 to 19 years are married, with the highest number of child marriages recorded at rural areas at 27, 4% and urban areas at 16, 9%,” she said.
She said despite the child marriages and sexual encounters among the adolescents, their knowledge of family planning is still low at 41, 4% for the 15 to 19-year-olds resulting in high maternal mortality.
“Twenty four percent of maternal deaths were in adolescents aged 15 to 19 years, which is 525 per 100 000 live births. Comprehensive knowledge about HIV went down among the 15 to 24 year olds in general, especially among young women with only primary education and among people living in rural areas,” she said.
“HIV prevalence in the age group 15 to 19 years is 3,7% and 4,6% for boys and girls respectively. There is limited HIV testing by young people with the proportion of sexually active young people who had an HIV test in the preceding 12 months and know their results at 6,5%,” Machimbirike said.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care Ruth Labode said given the concerns highlighted on adolescent sexual activity, pregnancies and HIV prevalence, it is imperative to ensure young people aged 18 downwards are able to access reproductive health services without being accompanied by their guardians.
“Our children are contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV because they cannot access reproductive health services. There is no parent who can accompany their under 16 child to access these services, yet some of them are already sexually active. We are saying it is better for them to access services in order to prevent the spread of diseases and unwanted pregnancies,” Labode said.
ZNFPC executive director, Munyaradzi Murwira said the issue of child marriages was still worrisome.
PSZ country director Abebe Shibru urged government to have specific annual budget allocations for family planning and sexual reproductive health services.