Young People’s Network (YPN) — an arm of the National Aids Council (NAC) that coordinates programmes on youths’ sexual reproductive health and HIV and Aids issues in the country — on Wednesday met with policy makers to discuss sexual reproductive health.
By Nicola Gibson
HIV and Aids issues were brought to the fore during the discussions that were also attended by child president Tinaye Mbavari, parliamentarians and various stakeholders.
The HIV and Aids pandemic is one of the most significant challenges to the socio-economic development of the country, hence the organisations saw it necessary to host such a forum.
One of the speakers raised eyebrows when she said the age of consent should be changed from 16 to 13 years.
“The ideal solution would be to change the age of consent to 13 years from the current 16 years. This is because most young people are indulging in sex at a very young age,” she said.
She said the failure to extend human rights into the sexual rights sphere was an indication of a social and legal failure to acknowledge the human rights of young people who consent to sex before they reach 16 years.
Participants, mainly youths, said most teenagers were indulging in sex with their peers at the age of 13 years.
“Whether we like it or not, most teenagers are now experiencing their first sexual encounter with their peers at around the age of 13,” said another participant.
“Indeed, the average age of first sexual contact is now 13 years.These first sexual encounters may include intercourse or may be limited to oral sex, mutual masturbation and sexual touching.”
The youths urged parliamentarians to come up with a bill that would change the age of consent.
They argued that the current age of consent made abuse more likely by reinforcing the idea that young people below the age of 16 don’t have any sexual rights, adding it signalled that no one below the lawful age was capable of making a rational, moral choice about when to have sex.
“This sexual disempowerment plays into the hands of adults who want to abuse us. Abusers exploit many young people’s lack of assertion of their sexual rights, which includes their right to reject undesired sex,” said another participant.
YPN facilitator Tinotenda Kabai told The Standard Style on the sidelines of the event that youths wanted to access sexual reproductive health services.
“People have different schools of thought in relation to access of reproductive health, but for us youths, we want young people to access sexual reproductive health services without any hussles,” he said.
“Looking at this dispensation that we are in now, we are saying that the young people’s voices should be heard and if there is going to be any consultations in relation to the age of consent, the young people themselves should be heard.”
NAC youth co-ordinator Beauty Nyamwanza said youths engagement started from the grassroot as the organisation sought to create relationships with all youths.
“What we are doing as NAC is helping young people coordinate their voices so that they participate in issues affecting them,” she said.
NAC has made a conscious decision to allocate 5% of the Aids levy to fund community-driven yet evidence-based prevention activities to avoid a probable catastrophe. Programming in youth-related activities received the highest allocation. There is evidence that confirms the notion that new infections are high in young people, particularly between the ages of 15 and 24.
YNP was launched after NAC realised the need for a co-ordinated voice of young people from different districts and sectors that could articulate issues as a network at a national level.