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Age of consent stirs debate in Zimbabwe

by Staff reporter
09 Mar 2019 at 06:50hrs | Views
LEGISLATORS have dismissed reports that they are pushing for the downward review of the age of consent to 12 years, explaining that they were calling for minors who are sexually active to access treatment and family planning services.

The county's age of consent stands at 16 years as Parliament is yet to pass a bill for it to move to 18. The legislators said some minors as young as 12 were now indulging in sexual activities and depriving them of treatment and services such as family planning and condoms was detrimental to their future.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, Dr Ruth Labode dismissed reports that her committee suggested that the age of consent be reviewed to 12 years.

"It's a false story doing the rounds. The issue is that the committee on HIV and Aids was in Kadoma for induction. And one of the issues that we were supposed to be discussed was Bills which relate to our sector. When we spoke of the Public Health Bill, legislators began asking what happens if we move the age of consent from 18, it means everybody who is below is a minor," said Dr Labode.

She said if the clause is not provided for in the Bill, it would work against the minors.

"Let's say a 16-year-old is now indulging in sexual activities and they fall pregnant or want family planning, will they take their parents to clinic to help them get family planning?  No, that is not going to happen. It means we have disadvantaged this whole age group from accessing services. That was the issue discussed," said Dr Labode.  

"We then recommended to the Permanent Secretary of Health and Child Care (Dr Gerald Gwinji) that when you are amending this Bill, get the lawyers to make sure that there is a provision which states that after we have moved the age of consent to 18, a person under 18 who is sexually active must be allowed to access services irrespective of age".

Added Dr Labode: "Whether they are 12 years old and they say they are sexually active, if they fall pregnant, are you not going to treat that child? They must be attended to. That's why the provision must be put there."

She said the move to include minors also emanated from statistics released in 2016 by former Primary and Secondary Education Minister , Dr Lazarus Dokora who said 4 500 girls could not make it from Grade Seven to Form 1 in 2017 after they fell pregnant.

"What does that tell the nation? What we are saying is that if a child is sexually active, he or she must be allowed to be treated and access all other services to prevent unwanted pregnancies and diseases. But not to reduce the age of consent to 12," said Dr Labode. She said the law as it stands does not allow a 14- year-old to be treated without a parent.

"If a nurse treats that child and they react to a drug, that nurse will be in trouble with the law. So what are we saying about this age group?" she said.

In 2016, Dr Dokora, in a Ministerial statement told legislators that 4 500 girls had dropped out of school due to pregnancy and early marriages.

"A total of 305 549 will enrol in day secondary school with effect from Monday, 12th December, 2016. Sadly, 4 500 of our girls and boys will not be seeking Form 1 places in 2017, having regrettably left school owing to pregnancies and marriages," said Dr Dokora then.

In 2015, there was a debate on whether or not condoms should be distributed in schools, with proponents of the idea arguing that school children should have access to protection as they were becoming sexually active earlier. However, parents and guardians opposed the idea and it was dropped.  

Government is in a fix on how to address child marriages as existing laws permit sex at 16 while the constitution prohibits the marrying of children under 18 years of age. Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi recently told Senators that Government would soon be consulting on the issue in order to address it.

"We are saying children at the age of 16 can consent to sexual activities, yet, contrary to that it says, when they are under 18, they cannot marry, so there is a contradiction. As I said, this is what we are looking at since I said we are analysing the law and we want to align this with the pending situation because it is ironic to say a child may indulge in sexual activities but cannot be married. So, we need to look for ways of coming to a compromise on the two issues," he said.

Source - chronicle