Children see HIV a better risk than hunger, says child MP

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

A JUNIOR member of parliament has admitted Zimbabwean minors were prepared to contract HIV/Aids by offering themselves to older sex partners for as long as they were guaranteed of receiving money to buy food.

Leslie Tendayi, Junior MP for Mbare, made the startling admission Friday at the launch of Age of Consent, Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care in Zimbabwe Justice for Children publication.

Zimbabwean lawmakers are at odds on whether to reduce the legal age of sexual consent from 16 to 12.

To confirm some of the concerns, Tendayi admitted children as young as 12 were in fact, engaging in sexual activity both among themselves and with older partners, adding, talk on sexual and reproductive health issues must be cascaded to minors.

Among some of the reasons children were indulging in sex, according to Tendayi, were those linked to survival in a country that has seen the worst forms of poverty and hunger.

“I can give you an example of a research that was done in Matapi Hostels in Mbare,” he said.

“Children, by the time they reach 16 years of age, they will be sexually active.”

He added, “What is shocking in what they are saying is that it’s better to die of AIDS than hunger. So, this leads them into sexual activities.

“They are saying it is better to die of AIDS because they know they can access ARVs than not access food.

“But is that the right thing we are teaching our children? We are saying that as children, we need protection from sexual exploitation.

“We need protection from old men who are taking advantage of children, promising foods and promising them good things.”

The junior MP urged counselling to be made compulsory in local schools.

“Because we know that as children, we tend to experience a lot, a 16-year-old (boy) and a 15-year-old girl can have sex, but after we have experimented, does it mean that we are guilty of any crime?

“So it is better to give guidance and counselling so that we may know the disadvantages of indulging in sex at a young age.

“Even in schools, guidance and counselling must be made compulsory in terms of SRH education.

“You see a 14-year-old girl being expelled from school simply because she is pregnant.”

As children, Tendayi said, they faced a lot of struggles accessing condoms once intended to be delivered in schools but were nowhere to be found.

“We know that children are indulging in sexual activities but if you are given the condoms, you can protect yourself from STIs.

“So it’s better to help them prevent these things because we know that most children are not abstaining from sex.

“So isn’t it better to assist them so that they may not fall sick and also get pregnant or an STI. So it’s better to be sexually active but protected.

“As children, we are saying that please give us these resources and protect us from sex predators, adults as well.”