Government should protect young people’s sexual and reproductive health rights


By Margret Chogugudza

The international community today is commemorating World Population Day under the theme “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations”.

Access to family planning methods and information is part of women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) which is protected under international human rights law and Zimbabwe is a signatory of the international human rights law.

According to the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) adolescent fertility rate remains high among young girls 15-19 years old in Zimbabwe with nearly 1 in 10 adolescent girls giving birth every year.

The statistics shows that thousands of young women in Zimbabwe are failing to access family planning methods resulting in unwanted pregnancy curtailing girls’ opportunities thereby hinders their ability to reach their full potential.

The Zimbabwean government is faced with the big responsibility of meeting the crucial sexual and reproductive health needs of young people, for the prevention of teenage and unwanted pregnancies, maternal mortality and STIs including HIV/AIDS. Young people constitute approximately 36% of the total population of Zimbabwe.

There is a denial by the government of young people’s concerns relating to unwanted pregnancy and STIs because parents are given the role of controlling their children’s sexuality. The cultural norms and values of the Zimbabwean society forbid young people to engage in sexual activities before marriage, therefore young people are deprived access to sexual information.

Yet Zimbabwean adolescents face dramatic real-life problems as a result of their inability to obtain sexual and reproductive information which includes family planning information and methods.

The government’s failure to adopt an effective legislative and policy framework that ensures access to sexual and reproductive needs for young people has tremendous implications for their lives considering the fact that in Zimbabwe the onset of sexual activity by youth generally begins before marriage and often as early as 12.

Whilst it clear that Zimbabwean youth are engaging in sexual activity at an early age unfortunately they have a limited access to family planning methods and information..

Lack of access to sexual and reproductive health needs and information leaves young people vulnerable to the grave health risks associated with early onset of sexual activity including early and unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortions and STIs including HIV/AIDS.

Young people’s reproductive rights are strongly entrenched in the most basic human rights principles, as enunciated in major international and regional human rights treaties as well as international conference documents.

Young people have the right to reproductive and sexual health, including the right to information and education, the right to reproductive self-determination, and the rights to equality and non-discrimination.

According to international standards, adolescents are entitled to the same rights as adults with respect to services and information on contraception and STI prevention.

Young people who are sexually active and who seek sexual and reproductive information and protection methods shows that they are acting maturely in their own best interests to be informed and to protect themselves from serious health risks.

Unfortunately, such chance is denied the youth by the society. Young people who are not yet married cannot openly seek sex education and counselling as well as family planning methods due to fear of stigmatisation. It is a taboo in Zimbabwe for unmarried women to discuss sex issues in Zimbabwe.

International human rights instruments obligate the Zimbabwean government to respect, protect and fulfil adolescents’ right to access sexual and reproductive information and family planning methods.

Zimbabwe is also under a further obligation to protect adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health rights without the interference by private third parties, each individual should be given the chance to seek and receive services and information on contraception and STI prevention.

In addition, the government is under a positive obligation to ensure that adolescents are able to enjoy all their rights. The government should introduce programs and implement laws and policies to ensure young people the effective enjoyment of their sexual and reproductive health rights and access family planning methods free of charge.