BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
HIV and Aids have emerged as the leading killers among adolescents, accounting for 50% of deaths, according to statistics released by sexual and reproductive health rights organisation, Advocacy Core Team.
The organisation recently petitioned Parliament to consider amendments to the relevant pieces of legislation to ensure all young people could access reproductive health services.
It argued that lack of comprehensive information and knowledge about reproductive healthcare services (RHS) among adolescents increased spread of HIV and sexually transmitted infections and lead to unplanned parenthood and illegal abortions.
In a report jointly presented to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care and Thematic Committee on HIV and Aids on Thursday, the Advocacy Core Team said it did not seek to adjust the age of consent to sexual behaviour or the minimum age of marriage, but to promote cognisance of RHS among young people.
“It is our prayer that the Public Health Act of 2018 is amended to provide that there should be no age restrictions on accessing reproductive health care services by persons aged 12 years and above, and these services include: HIV testing, pre- and post counselling, access to contraceptives and other pregnancy prevention management services for adolescents and young people; and to ensure that there are proper administrative measures to monitor and provide reproductive health rights for persons aged 12 years and above, ” the petition read.
The organisation also argued that the requirement of consent was also making it difficult for healthcare service providers to effectively attend to adolescents due to inadequate legal protection.
Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga said poverty was the major cause of early sexual behaviour among teens.
“Ideally, individuals with the capacity to consent should be allowed to do so, no matter what their age,” he said.
“Assessment of capacity, however, is rarely straightforward for adolescents. Capacity to consent requires the ability to communicate a choice, to understand the options, to reason effectively about these options, and to make an un-coerced decision.
“Active involvement of a concerned and capable parent is the best possible situation for sexually active adolescents. Parents are presumed to be competent decision makers. They have legal and financial duties to care for children including adolescents.”
The committee recommended that the Health ministry should amend section 35 of the Public Health Act to provide sexual and reproductive and health rights services for young people under the age of 18 years and provide for the protection of the service providers by June 2022.