Zim urged to repeal colonial-era health laws

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2099
About 80% of urban citizens have never seen it

AMNESTY International (AI) has called on government to repeal some of the colonial-era health legislation to ensure citizens, particularly adolescent girls, are able to enjoy their right to dignity and equality.

BY VANESSA GONYE

In a statement yesterday ahead of the parliamentary debate on the Public Health Act Amendment Bill, AI warned that Article 35 of the Bill, as it stands now, could put adolescent girls’ health at further risk, as it implies that anyone under 18 years of age will not have legal capacity to consent to receiving health services and
information.

“For too long, adolescent girls in Zimbabwe have suffered the consequences of inconsistent laws which are used to deny them their sexual and reproductive rights. This, combined with the shame and stigma around adolescent sexual health services, means young girls face an increased risk of unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection,” Muleya Mwananyanda, AI’s deputy regional director for Southern Africa, said.

“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.”

Under Zimbabwean law, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16, yet many adolescents become sexually active below that age.

AI revealed that policy discord impacted negatively on adolescent girls and denied them equal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.

The government’s delay in amending its laws to raise the legal age of marriage to 18, in line with the Constitution, has led to widespread confusion around the right to access health services, in a context of entrenched taboos surrounding pre-marital sex.

“Zimbabwean lawmakers must use this opportunity to come up with health laws that protect and respect the human rights of all Zimbabweans, regardless of their age or background,” Mwananyanda said.

The Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care and Members of the Parliament will lead the debate on Public Health Bill this week.