'Teenage girls need sex education'

© DURING a rape trial, a 14-year-old victim requests the court to clear the gallery, including her parents, because she had a confession to make.

Once cleared, she refutes claims that the perpetrator, 20, had forced himself on her but narrates how they had been in a blissful sexual relationship, prompting the court to alter the rape charge to “having sexual intercourse with a young person”.

The girl had consented to sexual intercourse at the age of 14 in defiance of the legal age of consent which has been pegged at 16 in Zimbabwe.

Judging from such cases, the reality on the ground is that children are consenting and engaging in sexual activity.
However, they suffer the consequences of unwanted pregnancies, illegal abortions, sexually transmitted infections because access to sexual reproductive healthcare is restricted for minors their age.

During a presentation on the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child at a conference held in Ethiopia last week, emphasis was put on African Union (AU) member states to recognise and uphold the “best interests of children”.

“African states affiliated to the AU that have ratified the Children’s Charter have an obligation to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and healthcare to all children with emphasis on the development of primary healthcare…preventive health care…family life education and provision of service,” Selemani Kinyunyu, who presented a paper on the topic, said.

States parties to the Children’s Charter are required to submit state reports every three years, setting out measures they have adopted to implement the provisions of the Charter.

In a publication titled ‘Age of consent, sexual intercourse with young persons and access to sexual reproductive healthcare in Zimbabwe’, Justice for Children (JCT) has stressed limitations of the current law on adolescents.

“Because a child under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex at law, it is presumed that that child does not need contraceptives or sexual reproductive health services (SRHS), which is a belief that prejudices children.

“Pharmacies require parents or guardians’ presence before dispensing medication.
“In terms of the Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is only permitted in certain circumstances when a child has been sexually abused and a certificate issued by a magistrate,” JCT said.

JCT  further observed how cervical cancer screening, which is related to sexual and reproductive health, was restricted to persons below,16 unless considered a “mature minor”.
The same applied to release of HIV test results. Assessment of a mature minor was subjective.

“The question we pose is: given that children are in fact engaging in consensual sexual activity among themselves, is it in their best interests that they be denied access to SRHS, or that they be granted?”

Human rights activist and Tag A Life Foundation founder Nyaradzo Mashayamombe said it was important for minors to be educated on sexual and reproductive issues but differed on the age of consent which she felt must be 18.

“When children are being given the information, we are not saying it is their right to engage in sexual activity but they have the right to access information to empower them.

“The age of consent should be put at 18 to protect them from abuse by adults that may want to abuse them. The fact that it is still at 16 years, is in breach of the Constitution that guarantees children’s right to be protected and is in fact shooting us in the foot,” Mashayamombe said.

“We tend to think that they should consent to sex at 16, but we are being hypocritical and do not care about our children when we say that. 

“Maybe…what I can say is that if it is sex between minors it should be handled differently to that of children preyed on by adults and the law must be tougher, imposing harsh sentences on such perpetrators,” she added.

Legal expert Liberty Gono said government should increase sexual and reproductive education in schools to fill the void created by parents that no longer have time to counsel their children on such issues.

“As long the age of consent is 16 years there are no exceptions that can be given for children to access SRHS because that is the law..

“Our Parliament has to align our criminal laws with the Constitution and the position is a bit tricky because… the government has to protect the moral fabric of society, that is to make sure that children concentrate on their well-being. Access to Internet is no longer restricted and children can now watch pornographic material. I think the government should prioritise sexual education in schools,” Gono told the Daily News On Sunday.

    Post a comment

    Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
    Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
    - Editor

    Your email address will not be shared.