Edward Makuzva

ZIMBABWE’S INCONSISTENT laws and sexual taboos have put adolescents at risk of harmful consequences, including dying in childbirth and make it harder for them to access on sexual and reproductive health information and services, Amnesty International has warned in a recent report.

Addressing journalist Friday in Harare, Amnesty Regional Director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said many adolescents are sexually active before they are 18 years and the government must act to ensure that they can access services and advice they need to safeguard their health and future.

Muchena added inaccessibility to sexual and reproductive health information in Zimbabwe, child marriages and accessing health services are leaving adolescent girls more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and at higher risk of HIV infection.

“Consequently, girls face stigma and discrimination, the risk of child marriage, economic hardships and challenges in completing their education.

“While the legal age of consent provisions may be intended to protect against sexual abuse and child marriages, it is unacceptable that they be used to deny adolescents their rights to sexual and reproductive health information services”, Muchena explained.

According demographic health survey data for Zimbabwe, nearly 40% of girls and 24% of boys are sexually active before they reach the age of 18.

A series of inconsistencies in the country’s legislative and policy framework related to sexual and reproductive health has contributed to significant confusion over whether people below the age of 18 need parental consent to access sexual health services.

The report highlighted the widespread and misconception that only girls who are already pregnant or married can access contraception and HIV services.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International also found deeply concerning knowledge gaps among adolescent girls and the organization intervened on how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.