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Zimbabwe: Girls health at deadly risk from harsh laws and sexual taboos.

Author: Ray Mwareya, (in unknown location). Date Published: 26 Jan 2018
  • Zimbabwe: Girls health at deadly risk from harsh laws and sexual taboos

    A global human rights lobby, Amnesty International, has accused Zimbabwe government of placing adolescent girls at risk of harmful consequences, including dying in childbirth, because inconsistent laws make it harder for them to access sexual and reproductive health information and services.

    Its report titled, Lost without knowledge: Barriers to sexual and reproductive health information in Zimbabwe, documents how widespread confusion around the legal age of consent for sex, marriage and accessing health services is leaving adolescent girls more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and at higher risk of HIV infection. As a result, girls face stigma and discrimination, the risk of child marriage, economic hardship and challenges in completing their education. 

    “The reality is that many adolescents are sexually active before they are 18 and the government must act to ensure that they can access the services and advice they need to help safeguard their health and their futures,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

    “While age of consent provisions may be intended to protect against sexual abuse and child marriage, it is unacceptable that they be used to deny adolescents their rights to sexual and reproductive health information and services.” 

    The report found that entrenched taboos around adolescent sexuality, and a lack of affordable healthcare, are also making it harder for adolescents to access the information and services they need. According to demographic health data for Zimbabwe, nearly 40% of girls and 24% of boys are sexually active before they reach the age of 18.

    A series of inconsistencies in the country’s legislative and policy framework related to sexual and reproductive health has contributed to significant confusion over whether people below the age of 18 need parental consent to access sexual health services.

    Under Zimbabwean law, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 16. However, the government’s delay in raising the legal age of marriage to 18, in line with the constitution, has fueled confusion in a context of entrenched taboos surrounding pre-marital sex.

    The report highlights the widespread misperception that only girls who are already pregnant or married can access contraception and HIV services. Amnesty International found limited guidance within related health polices to assist health care providers in determining whether or not an adolescent below the age of 16 is eligible for a particular sexual or reproductive health service. 

    Amnesty International also found deeply concerning knowledge gaps among adolescent girls the organization interviewed on how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

    Adolescent girls said they had been barred from clinics and shamed when trying to access services because of their age.

    One of them told Amnesty International that: “[you] can’t go to the clinic if you are under 16; they will chase you away and insult you.” 

     Others thought they had to be 18 to access health services.

     Another girl similarly explained to the organization that because of her age she had never visited a health clinic before she became pregnant at age 17. She said: “I knew that I was too young.” 

    Community stakeholders – including teachers, parents, NGOs and community health workers – corroborated the girls’ testimonies.

    Amnesty International calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to raise awareness of the right of adolescents to access sexual and reproductive health information and services. The organization also recommends that laws and policies should be clarified to ensure adolescents have the right to access sexual and reproductive health information, education and services, irrespective of their age and without parental consent.

     Taboos over adolescent sexuality

    Amnesty International also urges the Zimbabwean government to do more to challenge taboos around adolescent sexuality, including sex before marriage, which form another barrier for adolescents trying to access the information and services they need to protect their health and lives. These taboos – coupled with the government’s failure to provide comprehensive sexuality education in schools – also serve to perpetuate gender discrimination.

    “Zimbabwean authorities must create a conducive environment for adolescent girls to realise and claim their sexual and reproductive rights. Adolescents have a right to comprehensive sexuality education, which should go beyond abstinence-only approaches and challenge gender stereotypes,” said Deprose Muchena. 

    “Our research shows that harmful gender stereotypes mean girls face especially severe consequences if they become pregnant, including forced marriages and the end of their educational aspirations.”

    Cost barriers

    The report also highlights the high costs associated with sexual and reproductive health services. Despite the government’s commitment to providing access to contraception and free maternal healthcare, fees are often charged to compensate for funding shortfalls. Amnesty International found that in many cases such fees disproportionally disadvantaged pregnant adolescents, resulting in delayed access to maternal health services or young people not receiving care at all.  


    The report is based on group discussions and interviews with 120 participants, including 50 adolescent girls, from the provinces of Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland East and Masvingo between February and May 2017. 

    Studies show that rates of adolescent pregnancy and HIV are increasing, coinciding with declining levels of knowledge related to sexual and reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancy is a major factor behind Zimbabwe’s high rates of child marriage and maternal mortality. In 2016, 21% of maternal deaths occurred among girls between the ages of 15 and 19.




    By Ray Mwareya: 7 January 2018

    Sehliselo Ndebele, the only female Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP) official who was arrested together with other seven male colleagues for demonstrating against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s involvement in the Gukurahundi genocide, has given a chilling account following her heavy brutalisation by state security agents who accused their victims of being sent by exiled government ministers.

    Ndebele and the other male MRP officials were released from custody last week after the state conceded to the defence counsel’s submission that their clients had no case to answer and that their constitutional rights had been violated following their arrest by the military and the police.

    In an interview, Ndebele, who is the party’s Matebeleland North provincial committee member, said she immediately went into her period after she was thoroughly beaten by the soldiers.

    On the fateful day, Ndebele said she and her colleagues had gone to the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair to alert president Mnangagwa to the numerous burning issues affecting Zimbabwe´s Matebeleland provinces.

    “When Mnangagwa was about to begin his speech we raised our placards urging his government to address issues such as the closure of Bulawayo industries, marginalisation and Gukurahundi. Security agents in civilian clothes immediately pounced on us inside the hall. They ordered us out of the venue and took us outside where they started assaulting us,” said Ndebele.

    She said when the assailants, who included soldiers in civilian clothes and one Zanu PF youth whom she identified as Magura Charumbira, noticed that the beatings had attracted attention from the crowds they took them to a secluded place in a hallway passage and launched fresh assaults on them.

    According to her, one senior police officer pleaded with the soldiers to stop the beatings but they ignored him.

    “I was among those who were thoroughly beaten. The assailants thought just because I am a woman, I was the weakest point.  They kept on asking me who had sent us to demonstrate. They plucked out one of my locks from my head which was very painful. They also kicked and assaulted me all over the body using clenched fists and whips,” she said.

    Ndebele said when she and her colleagues were drenched in blood, the soldiers poured cold water on them. While assaulting them, Ndebele said, the soldiers accused their victims of being members of the ruling Zanu PF G40 faction.

    “While assaulting us, they kept accusing us of being sent by Jonathan Moyo an exiled minister to embarrass president Mnangagwa. They said we were G40 members bent on tarnishing the image of Mnangagwa,” she said.

    After threatening to take their victims to the Zimbabwe KGVI army headquarters in Harare, the soldiers eventually took the captives to Brad Barracks, in the second largest city in a police vehicle where they were further interrogated.  

    The army officers took the profiles and physical addresses of their victims. They also took their photos, Ndebele said.

    “When we were at Brad barracks, I suddenly went into my period because of shock. They refused me to put a sanitary wear until when we were taken to Bulawayo Central police station at around 8 pm. Even at the Bulawayo police station, I was only allowed to change the pad once per day,” she said.

    Ndebele said she felt her womanhood and privacy was violated during the arrest.

    “There is no doubt that my womanhood was violated. I was forced to plead with male police officers to change my sanitary pads. I was also confined to a sewer soaked cell with no shoes. I was also bitten by mosquitoes all over my body. I could not bath for almost three days,” she said.

    Some of her colleagues who were seriously injured include Brighton Ithupeng Sibanda, the party’s national treasurer, and the party’s Gwanda aspiring MP, Malwande Nyathi.

    Sibanda suffered injuries to the spinal cord as well as facial injuries. His doctor has referred him to a specialist in South Africa for further medical attention.

    The party’s leader, Mqondisi Moyo, described the army’s actions as illegal and unfortunate.

    “The Mnangagwa government seems to be worse than the Mugabe regime. Why is the military involved in purely civilian matters? Again, the perpetrators have positively identified Zanu PF activists who were at the forefront of the beating our people alleging that they were G40 members. Who is going to be safe in this country when ruling party youths can simply arrest people willy-nilly,” said Moyo.    

    The (MPR) officials were released without any charges last Wednesday.

    Dumisani Dube from Abameli Human Rights Lawyers told New Zimbabwe at Bulawayo Magistrates courts that the eight were released after the state conceded to the defence counsel’s submission that their clients had no case to answer and that their constitutional rights had been violated following their arrest by the military and the police. All the victims are currently receiving treatment at a local private hospital.

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