Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede once stunned Zimbabweans when he attacked modern family planning methods, claiming they had serious side effects for women.
By Phyllis Mbanje
His “research” — the basis for his argument — attracted a lot of criticism from the medical fraternity and members of the public who felt statements by the long-serving government official sent dangerous messages.
Resistance to family planning has always been linked to ultra conservative religious sects and other cultural groups.
In some parts of rural Chiredzi, women are having a torrid time with their partners who demand that they bear as many children as possible.
Teen pregnancies are rampant in the district and challenges associated with teen motherhood put their lives at risk as reproductive systems of most teenagers would not have matured enough to handle the trauma of child birth.
During a recent Unicef media tour of Chiredzi, women told harrowing tales of abuse at the hands of their spouses who were mostly resident in neighbouring South Africa.
The Shangani community is highly mobile and once young men reach the age of 18, they migrate to South Africa.
When they have made some money, they come back home around Christmas time and marry young girls, mostly those who would have just completed primary school.
Thirty-five-year-old Noriah Chinana is expecting her fifth child. If she could have it her way, she would have stopped bearing children when she had her third baby.
“I was nearly beaten when I suggested to my husband that we should stop having children since I had health complications,” she said.
But because she only went as far as Grade 7, her prospects of earning a living are slim and so she has to contend with the demands of her husband who lives in Mpumalanga, South Africa.
He only comes home at Christmas with a few goodies and new clothes for her and their children.
“I have to make him happy because he is the bread-winner,” says Chinana, who was at a local clinic waiting to have her baby.
“Here we get to rest and not be concerned about household chores and demands,” she added.
However, she was worried her husband would still want more children.
“I’m tired of being pregnant all the time and minding babies. I also want time for my body to heal,” she said.
At Chizvirizvi health centre, which is situated along the Tanganda-Ngundu highway, we spoke to 20-year old Brenda Lingwani, who got pregnant when she had just turned 15.
She now has another baby and is expecting a third one in the next two years.
She is not particularly worried about having more babies because she feels she owes it to her husband for looking after her.
“He is my husband and so I owe him this much. He tries to look after us,” she says while showing no interest in learning the dangers of teen pregnancies.
However, her story pales in comparison to horrific tales of husbands trying to chew off the Norplant embedded in their wives’ arms.
Some, allegedly upon discovering that their wives were taking family planning tablets, secretly boiled them in a bid to render them ineffective.
“We have come a long way and are still trying to incorporate the men into our programmes. Many are still not willing to be tested for HIV,” said Siyananiso Shava, a nurse in charge of Phahlela clinic in rural Chiredzi.
Contraceptives and sexual and reproductive services are offered through youth friendly corners that are available in most communities but these are not being fully utilised by the communities in Chiredzi.
Health ministry family director Bernard Madzima said adolescent fertility issues were of great concern to government as these had serious health implications.