Age of consent debate a potential minefield

THE contentious debate on whether to provide contraceptives to teenagers or not has once again dragged moral and religious crusaders to the fore and typical of such discussions it will end in tears and no concrete policy framework to address the issue in a holistic manner.

Scientific and empirical evidence are being measured against the moral bar which albeit is only fielded when it suits the wielder.

That teen pregnancies are rampant is not in contention, that young girls aged 12 are indulging in these is again not in dispute. Closely tied to this is the rampant backyard abortions which always end tragically for young girls.

But what is being debated is should we then provide contraceptives to teenagers or we raise our moral placards and say no? Is it enough to deny contraceptives and hope the children will not partake of the sacred act while we are not watching?

How practical is it to preach abstinence to today’s youth and not safeguard this with measures for those who may fail to keep their purity.

Teen pregnancy is not the only enemy, HIV and Aids is also a big threat to young girls.

The debate must be based on facts and not on religious, moral grounds or emotions.

While the legal age of majority is 18 years and that of consent to sex is 16 there is overwhelming evidence that girls below 16 are already experimenting with sex and a quick glance at statistics of teen pregnancies supports this position.

What is also critical and undeniable is that most of the partners are older men who have the means, but just want to play and have fun. They will not lack because urban poverty is everywhere and the young girls are vulnerable.

So to shoot down efforts by local civic society organisations who petitioned Parliament to reduce legal age of consent to use contraceptives/access to reproductive health services to 12 years is to say the least folly.

Indeed Zimbabwe is known for its high moral standards, but there is need to bring a balancing act to this debate.

The Public Health Act is one of the pieces of legislation that can be utilised to resolve this debate which is now being reduced to emotional outbursts devoid of workable options.

Access to essential life-saving sexual and reproductive health services without parental consent should not be considered in isolation, but also the drivers around it.

It does not mean giving access to contraceptives is tantamount to granting our children a licence to be promiscuous.

It simply is a safety net for those who will slip and currently many have gone down that route.

We should not sanitise this, but tackle it with sober minds.

Whichever way this will go, the official conclusion must put the young girls at the centre. Everyone has a role in bringing up morally upright children. The blame game should just stop!

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