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Lets not fool ourselves 14 year-olds are having sex, Parliament told

Proportional Representation legislator Ruth Labode has told Parliament that teenagers from 14 years are already having sex and the Marriages Bill should have a clause that will allow them to access family planning products.

Currently, teenagers require consent from guardians and parents for them to buy or access family planning products and services.

This requirement has however been blamed for the huge number of teen-pregnancies that have been reported in the country and which have seen them dropping out of school.

Some of the products in question include accessing family planning pills, condoms and all other devices that are used to prevent pregnancy among many others

Efforts have been undertaken before by such organisation as UNFPA to distribute condoms in schools but the move was short down on religious and cultural grounds.

Speaking in the National Assembly, Honourable Labode who is also the Committee Chairperson for the Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care said people should not fool themselves as children are already in engaged in sexual activities from the age of 14 years.

“Madam Speaker Ma’am, I will touch on Section 79 of the Marriages Bill but before I go there, I want to talk about the desire by the public and the Committee Report which says the public desires to move the age of consent to sex to 18.

“I want to bring to the attention of Honourable Members that once we move the age of consent for sex to 18, which is good, but then we need to also have a provision that allows 14. 15, 16 and 17-year-olds who are sexually active to assess health services so that they can access family planning.

“Otherwise we are opening a pandora’s box for teenage pregnancies because the fact is they are having sex but we want to console ourselves as their mothers and fathers and say they are not having sex. They are having sex, so let us protect them,” she said.

Honourable Labode added that as the country moves the age of consent upwards they should likewise open access for teenage to access family planning.

“I do not know where we are supposed to do that or whether this Bill can actually include this. It was demanded by the way by some youth. They said that if you are moving the age of consent to sex to 18, please ensure that our minors can access health services,” she said.

Honourable Labode also spoke on the issues of criminalising the wilful transmission of HIV/Aids and below is the full text of what she said on the issue.

Let me now move on to Section 79 about criminalising wilful transmission. This law of criminalising wilful transmission was enacted before there was treatment for HIV. It was the only option for the country and the rest of the countries had. It meant to prohibit people from deliberately spreading the virus or to go round having a lot of partners, that was the reason but currently, as we stand, Zimbabwe has a beautiful, fantastic programme of ART where we have over 3 million people on ART treatment. Once you are on ART treatment, you are less likely to spread HIV. So, we need to consider that.

Madam Speaker, we are trying to put people on ART and we are trying to make people go for testing. You can only go for testing and tell your partner or your husband the results when you know that you will not get arrested but currently, if I am tested because I am pregnant, I will not tell my partner because my partner may run to the police and the Judge when judging my case but has no V 11, has no evidence as to whether I came with the HIV or the husband came with HIV but because I have been reported, I am the one who is going to Chikurubi. So, because of that, we really, really need to repeal this law.

Also, Zimbabwe is one of the countries with the highest number in Africa of people who has been arrested. Today we received a report from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, they told us that all these cases if you analyse them properly, you can tell that they were convicted on hearsay. The fact that I am sitting here and I go out with Hon. Mudarikwa who is HIV positive and I am diabetic – [Laughter] – and me who is diabetic and Hon. Mudarikwa who may not even know that he is HIV positive. He will not even know but he will pass on his virus to me who is already immunosuppressed because of diabetic, I will manifest before the person who has passed the virus to me. So, who has passed on the virus? It is me because I am the one manifesting so this law is a dangerous law.

Madam Speaker, do you know that last year we lost five MPs. All the MPs died of non-communicable diseases. Every one of us here can actually go to prison if care is not taken because of this law. All of us have a potential of being arrested because the law is so ambiguous, it is putting a judge in a very difficult position where he or she cannot prove who among the two people standing before him or her actually brought the sickness.

Madam Speaker, Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals. Right now, I am told even other Chairpersons have been given documents. We have been given documents that we are supposed to review and monitor and return to the Speaker, explaining how far we have gone with our SDGs. In the SDGs, Zimbabwe declared one thing that we shall leave no one behind, be it in prison or not, you must access your treatment so that we reduce the virus from spreading. How are we going to reduce that virus if we keep throwing people in jail where we know their HIV prevalence is higher than the normal society? The normal society is sitting on 13% but prisons are sitting on 25 to 30%, which means something is happening in prisons that is causing that. So, we cannot now keep on arresting people and throwing them in that house again.

As we move towards the SDGs again, we have said by 2030, we shall ensure that 95% of Zimbabweans who are eligible to ART are on ART. Madam Speaker, 95% of Zimbabweans shall not be discriminated upon because of being HIV Positive. So, by keeping this law, we are blessing the discrimination which is happening. Madam Speaker Ma’am, stigma has become huge. My Committee has met with sex workers on numerous occasions. They have said as sex workers, we are blamed for bringing the HIV but as sex workers, they can negotiate sex with a condom and they were saying that is why you find that as sex workers they can look after themselves but not the wives at home who cannot negotiate for sex from a husband who is having multiple partners. So, the stigma that comes is that people living with HIV are blamed for spreading HIV when they are not. They are living with HIV because they were tested and they declared openly that they are living with HIV. If we were to test ourselves here, we will be surprised what the prevalence rate will be. Maybe half of us are ailing. So you see the problems, we are potential spreaders of the virus.

Madam Speaker, I humbly ask Hon. Members to say for the sake of this country and for the sake of the treatment which we are getting free from the Global Fund, let us do the right thing. Let us repeal this law for the sake of our people. Thank you.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is the news editor for OpenParlyZW an online platform that covers Parliament of Zimbabwe activities using social media (Twitter and Facebook). He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum and a board member of Digital Communication Network.

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