MPs demand fast tracking of Public Health Act as teen pregnancies soar  

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 By Anna Chibamu   

LEGISLATORS have mounted pressure on government, to quickly alter the Public Health Act (PHA) to protect girls following a worrying spike in teenage pregnancies countrywide.

During a question and answer parliamentary session last week, MPs took turns to grill Justice Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, demanding action.

This comes at a time a lot of girls below the age of 10 are reportedly falling pregnant and dying from birth complications.

Matabeleland North MDC-Alliance Proportional Representative MP, Ruth Labode, called for the PHA Section 35 amendment.

Labode, a medical doctor, said authorities could no longer sit and pretend all is well.

“I am hurt and shocked that the levels of teenage pregnancies in Zimbabwe have reached epidemic levels, and for us to sit here and pretend there is a social norm or a family core that will deal with that issue is very sad.

“We have a serious problem at hand. We need to do everything within our power and deal with Section 35 of the Public Health Act.

“Minister Sithembiso Nyoni (Women and Gender) presented a report which said 55,000 teenage girls fell pregnant within a month. The report on education stated that 10,000 teenage girls left school because of pregnancies and we sit here and pretend it is something that will just disappear.

“We know that our young women are indulging in sex. Why do we want to pretend that they should not go to health facilities and get that service that can save them?  We have to do something,” Labode said amid applause from both benches.

Currently, the PHA is being amended under the Public Health Bill, 2021.

Girls under the age of 18 cannot consent to sex according to the law, but the same young girls according the PHA cannot seek treatment from public health institutions on their own.

They are supposed to be accompanied by a guardian or parent.

This has exposed them to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies as they are afraid to seek contraception or treatment in the presence of their parents.

The law considers them as minors yet they are indulging in sexual activities.

MDC-Alliance MP, Yvonne Musarurwa queried government’s intervention on young girls, who are dying whilst in labour.

“What position has been taken by government with regard to young girls that are dying whilst giving birth? Memory Machaya died at the age of 14 whilst giving birth. At the moment, Nokutenda Hwaramba recently passed away while in labour.

“From Machaya to Hwaramba’s case, what measures have been put in place to ensure that young girls do not die trying to give birth?” Musarurwa asked.

Ziyambi said men who impregnated the girls in question must face the law.

He argued research and observations had established a girl-child’s body cannot sustain pregnancy and delivery of a baby.

“Our laws make it illegal for children that are under age to be pregnant and give birth. We want to arrest the perpetrators who are raping our children. It is these murderers or offenders that should not be protected by the community when the police come wanting to arrest them.”

Musarurwa felt the answer was vague and asked Ziyambi what had been done about Memory Machaya’s case.

“We now have another case of Nokutenda who is yet to be buried. What has been done so far because investigations pertaining to Memory Machaya were being carried out. Has the culprit been arrested?” Musarurwa added.

Ziyambi urged Musarurwa to put her questions in writing.

Another MDC-Alliance legislator, Lindiwe Maphosa chipped in condemning the apostolic sect.

“When the issue of Machaya was brought to this house, it was an outcry for these religious groups to stop taking advantage of minors and abusing them,” Maphosa said.

MDC-Alliance Kadoma legislator, Muchineripi Chinyanganya also requested to know what government doing to conscientise the apostolic sects, where child marriages and child pregnancies were rampant.

“Government’s position is that it is wrong. Whether done by apostolic sects, Methodists or Seventh Day Adventists, it remains wrong,” Ziyambi said.

Kambuzuma CCC MP,  Willias Madzimure reported that most young girls, who were falling pregnant were not comfortable to visit health facilities because they are asked to name perpetrators.

“My question is, what should be done to avoid a scenario where this child is denied health care because of fear of someone’s conviction?”

Ziyambi said, “As government, when an underage pregnant child comes to hospital, we want to know who impregnated that child.”

The PHA was passed by the then Rhodesian Parliament in 1924.

The new Public Health Bill of 2017 seeks to align to the Constitution the law relating to Public Health and updating to meet the current health challenges.

Last week, it was reported that a Grade Seven pupil from Norton died at an apostolic sect shrine while giving birth sparking country-wide outrage.