Tears of a marginalised rural girl

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD Loice Banda (not her real name) joined other pregnant mothers for an afternoon prayer at Nyanga District Hospital. It is not her bulging tummy that catches the eye, but her youthful look.

BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA

“I was impregnated by a man who is well-known to my relatives. We slept together several times and after realising that I was pregnant, he fled from his home and I haven’t seen him since. I was advised at the clinic that I should approach the police. He is still at large and I am no longer going to school, as I am expecting a baby soon,” she said before breaking down in tears.

Banda is one of the many girls in the country’s marginalised areas who are being deprived of knowledge on adolescence and health issues.

She is one of the many youths who still require knowledge on contraceptive use as well as to handle adolescence sexual reproductive health (ASRH) issues.

A few years ago, government hinted on introducing condoms in school, sparking outrage from parents who were of the view that the move would result in the escalation of promiscuity among pupils.

“I did not know of the use of any contraceptive and never used one,” Banda said.

United Nations Population Fund Zimbabwe country representative Esther Muia said although a number of young girls were now more knowledgeable about sexual health, some of them were still found on the wrong side.

“Data from the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey shows that only 41,4% of adolescent boys and girls had comprehensive knowledge of HIV. On the other hand knowledge on methods of contraception is almost ubiquitous with 99,4% of girls aged 15-19 having heard of some method of contraception,” she said.

“However, this knowledge is not leading to uptake of contraception, as only 38,7% of sexually active unmarried girls aged 15-19 were using a contraceptive method, while unmet need for contraception in the age group stood at 39,6% compared to 10,4% for married women age 15-49.”

More than 30 juveniles between 10 and 14 years in Mashonaland East province were treated of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) since January.

According to a mid-year report presented during an Adolescence Sexual Reproductive Health (ASRH) provincial co-ordinating meeting held in Marondera, Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) provincial marketing and communication David Murwira said 33 juveniles were treated of STIs between January and June this
year.

Of the 33 juveniles, 23 were girls, while 10 were boys.

According to ZNFPC, in the 15 to 19 age group, 206 boys were affected, while 494 girls were treated of STIs in the same province.

“Comprehensive sexuality education is a mainstay of sexual and reproductive health and rights education for adolescents and young people. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality,” Muia said.

UNFPA supports the Primary and Secondary Education ministry through the National Aids Council in the process of developing policy such as the recently launched Zimbabwe School Health Policy, syllabuses for the guidance and counselling and life skills education curriculum through which young people receive CSE.

Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children programmes officer Maxim Murungweni said barriers to accessing contraceptives were the major causes of high rate of teenage pregnancies.

“Barriers to accessing contraceptives were cited as some of the major causes of the high rate of child and teenage pregnancies. The law does not allow children to freely access family planning contraceptives at public institutions without the consent of the parent,” he said.

“There is need for Zimbabwe to extensively discuss the issue of access to contraceptives for children and come up with the appropriate intervention since it is evident that children are engaged in sexual activities.”

According to the latest statistics, 17% of the youth population aged between 15 and 19 years are already mothers. The youths constitute 62% of the population, according to Census 2012.

The provinces that recorded the highest teenage pregnancies were Mashonaland Central at 31% and Matabeleland South at 30%, while Harare and Bulawayo recorded 10% and 12% respectively.

According to the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey, it is estimated that about 51% of young people (15-19 years) access their contraceptives from private pharmacies, with some pharmacists reportedly reluctant to entertain young people.

Although efforts are being made to sensitise the youths on ASHR, there is a wide knowledge gap especially in the marginalised communities of Zimbabwe.

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