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Friday, December 9, 2022
HomeNewsAccess To Reproductive Health Services Critical To Eliminate Child-Marriage In Rural Zimbabwe

Access To Reproductive Health Services Critical To Eliminate Child-Marriage In Rural Zimbabwe

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“I just wanted it removed,” she says.

By Michelle Chifamba

Sixteen-year-old Cathrine Mangena*, from Gotora Village in Uzumba, Murehwa [Mashonaland East Province], narrates, due to lack of access to sexual reproductive health services and contraceptives in her rural community, she fell pregnant because of peer pressure from her friends.

“I felt left out among my friends who used to talk about their sexual encounters with their boyfriends. I had to do it.”

Her boyfriend, eight years her senior told her to get rid of the pregnancy. An artisanal miner, he was already married and could not support another woman as his wife.

“He told me the condom had burst. After a while, I started feeling weak and nauseous. I knew I could be pregnant, but I told my grandmother whom I stayed with that it was malaria,” Mangena says.

Afraid of her family; poor and impoverished Mangena decided to terminate her pregnancy at three months.

In the village, Mangena visited an aunt- a traditional herbalist.

“She took me to the bushes and dug up some roots, and gave me a concoction. At home to speed up the process, I made an overdose of the concoction. Added other substances; washing powder and methylated spirit.”

“I could have died.”

“I vomited and lost a lot of blood. When I woke up in the hospital three days later, the doctor said I was lucky to be alive,” says Mangena.

 The strong link to abortion and legality

Mangena is one of the many Zimbabwean women, who have fallen prey to unsafe abortion out of desperation to get rid of their unintended pregnancies despite the country’s restrictive laws.

A World Health Organization, [2020] report states that unsafe abortions in Zimbabwe result in at least 20,000 maternal deaths every year.

In Zimbabwe, despite the restrictive laws on abortion, and the unlawful termination of pregnancies, 25 % of unintended pregnancies are terminated outside the formal health system.

The 1977 Termination of Pregnancy Act (TOP) is Zimbabwe’s main legal document that guides access to abortion. Gender and women’s rights activists have lobbied the government to repeal the law to ensure access to safe abortion for many young women and girls that have fallen into the shadows of unsafe abortion.

Shamva District Community Engagement Officer Hilda Mugaragumbo, of  Rozaria Memorial a girls rights organization that seeks to eliminate child-marriage and ensure the empowerment of girls in rural communities says despite Zimbabwe’s restrictive laws,  social norms, religious and traditional beliefs in most rural communities abortion is a taboo that is rarely talked about.

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“The silence of abortion is devastating for many young women and girls in rural communities. Girls as young as thirteen are having sexual relations with men. Unsafe abortion is taking place in these communities, some using traditional methods although the most cases remain unreported.  Access to sexual reproductive health rights such as contraceptives is a necessity for all adolescent girls to protect their health,” Hilda Mugaragumbo, Rozaria Memorial Trust, Community Engagement Officer says.

“There are unreported cases of abortions taking place in these rural communities using traditional methods, some which might end up affecting the reproductive health,” Mugaragumbo says.

A World Vision [2021] report states that 82 % of young girls became married during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. In this rural community, many young girls out of the protection of schools because of the global pandemic COVID-19, without access to reproductive health education, have fallen prey of artisanal miners in the gold rich district.

“Most of the young girls in these rural communities come from poor households and are lured by artisanal miners who promise them lavish lifestyles. Dumping them as soon as they get pregnant,” Mugaragumbo says.

“The law of Zimbabwe on abortion and consent to sexual intercourse should be revised to protect the future of young girls. Lack of access to their sexual reproductive health rights, stigma and discrimination, puts their lives at risk,” Mugaragumbo says.

Sexual Reproductive Health Rights- a Health Emergency for Zimbabwe’s Adolescents

The country reeling under the effects of the global pandemic Covid-19, access to sexual reproductive health rights and education for young girls has become a forgotten necessity.

“Girls as young as thirteen, out of the protection of the school are having sexual intercourse with older men. They are having unsafe abortions, some throwing their children in blare-toilets, risking their lives,” Mugaragumbo says.

UNFPA, Zimbabwe [2020] report says access to sexual and reproductive health services for young people remains critical, especially during a humanitarian crisis such as the global pandemic Covid-19.

“In challenging times, services are disrupted, leaving many young people and women with limited choices. This can have a significant impact on their lives. Before the COVID-19 related lockdowns, many young people were benefitting from free sexual reproductive health services such as family planning and HIV-AIDS testing,” reads the report.

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“Access to reproductive health services is a forgotten necessity during this humanitarian crisis that has resulted in young girls facing dangers of teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortion, child-marriage, sexual transmitted diseases and gender-based violence,” Mugaragumbo says.

Cultural beliefs contributing towards endangering the lives of young girls, exposing them to premature sexual relations.

“As a result of cultural beliefs, girls as young as twelve years are initiated into womanhood, trained on how to please their future husbands in the bedroom. Such initiation ceremonies expose the young girls into premature sexual encounters, as they would want to experiment,” Mugaragumbo says.

Advocating for better Laws!

Twenty-two year old Samantha Chidodo an aspiring human rights lawyer advocates against child marriage in her rural community of Shamva.

At just 17 years old, Chidodo experienced an arranged marriage, between her family and that of her husband’s. Now a mother to her four-year-old son, she escaped the vice of child-marriage, gender based violence and religious practices.

One of the few young women, who fights for girl’s rights, Chidodo says abortion law in Zimbabwe needs to be repealed in order to support the rights of young women and girls, criminalize and eliminate child-marriage.

“Girls should be empowered through education and access to sexual reproductive health care services so that child-marriage can be eliminated,” Samantha says.

Women rights representatives to fast track the passing of the Marriages Bill petitioned parliament of Zimbabwe, to protect young girls from child-marriage.

“Access to sexual reproductive health is a right for women and girls. Religion in most rural communities is the main driver to arranged marriage for girls. Young women and girls have the power to make their own decisions without interference from religious leaders,” Chidodo says.

Traditional leader, Chief Bushu of Ward 11 in Shamva district- an advocate for laws to safeguard girls’ rights in rural communities.

“We have drafted by-laws that criminalize child-marriage, gender based violence. Rural communities have a regard of the traditional laws and we have made efforts to reduce child-marriages. There is need for a comprehensive approach on sexual reproductive health education that should be inclusive of church leaders, traditional leaders, health and education professionals so that we speak with one voice adapting the law that supports the rights of girls and women,” Chief Bushu says.

(*)Not real name

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