Chiwenga seeks to improve minors’ access to reproductive health

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VICE PRESIDENT and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga, pictured, yesterday said his ministry is working on amending the Public Health Services Act in a bid to improve adolescents’ access to reproductive health, the Daily News reports.

This comes as various advocacy groups have called on the government to amend the Act to enable children below the age of 18 to access reproductive health without consent from parents or guardians as currently required.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Health to give oral evidence on policy measures aimed at addressing access to reproductive healthcare in Zimbabwe, Chiwenga said the government was not against this but wanted to ensure children were protected.
“We are already dealing with the Public Health Services Act. It is work in progress to align various sections in the Act with the reality on the ground and also with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
“Why we don’t encourage children to go on their own because they have done the unthinkable and they want to run away from the parents, is that at the end of the day, parents are responsible for their children.
“Why we are saying the brother or sister can give consent for a minor to access health care is because it is important that the child has some guidance after that act.
“This is to say let us all help this child so that the child can feel loved and supported. These are some of the things we are going to clarify in the Public Health Services Act,” Chiwenga said.
“Where we have our disquiet is the age of consent, not about access to health services, these are two different things. The age of consent here, honourable members, we would want you to seriously think about it. The moment we reduce the age of consent, we have actually destroyed the fabric of our society. The question of access is different,” Chiwenga added.
Deputy Health minister John Mangwiro also weighed in, saying that the Act would be amended to protect health workers who interact with under age children seeking reproductive health services.
“In the Public Health Services Act, doctors and nurses are covered. Even when a doctor gives medical assistance to an underage child, for example, an anaesthetic, and they collapse they are still protected. What we are saying is children must be treated and court orders can be given or doctors can phone the police, consult and give care,” Mangwiro said.
This comes as statistics provided by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry show that a total of 6 796 girls dropped out of school due to unplanned teenage pregnancies in the year 2018, with women’s organisations recently indicating that the number was rising owing to the coronavirus (Covid-19)-induced national lockdown.
Committee chairperson Ruth Labode said strengthening the law would ensure that children have access to reproductive health care and would go a long way in reducing teenage pregnancies.
“Children who fall pregnant while at school and are below the age of 18 are now allowed to go back to school, yet those who are not pregnant are not allowed to access reproductive health services. This means that we are allowing our children to get pregnant first and then access reproductive health services. We need to clarify the law there.
“If we are going to conduct sexual education in schools we will tell children that once you get sexually active you should get contraceptives but then the law does not allow that. We are contradicting ourselves. Let us use the evidence before us as a ministry to say what do we do in this situation,” Labode said.

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