BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
THE high cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriages in Matabeleland South expose the poor state of sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) services in the drought-prone province, a survey shows.
A recent report presented in Parliament by Women’s Affairs minister Sithembiso Nyoni shows that about 5000 teenage pregnancies and nearly 2 000 child marriages were recorded in the first two months of the year.
Mashonaland Central tops the numbers with 4 475 teenage pregnancies and 1 436 child marriages while Matabeleland South is second with 290 teenage pregnancies and 65 child marriages.
The report blames the statistics on idleness and the Covid-19-induced extended school closures, but a survey commissioned by the Gwanda-based Community Youth Development Trust (CYDT) cites lack of SRHR services.
“The released teenage pregnancy and underage marriages statistics by Nyoni in Parliament exposed the poor state of SRHR services in the marginalised areas. These government statistics are in tandem with observations and findings made by the CYDT during its ongoing SRHR activities in Gwanda, Umzingwane and Matobo districts,” the CYDT said in its weekly update.
The CYDT commissioned a “Needs Assessment” survey in December to understand the local trends on the access to and availability of SRHR services in Gwanda, Umzingwane and Matobo districts.
In its findings, the CYDT said lack or limited access to SRHR were a result of unavailability of health centres, lack of prioritisation of SRHR services by local health centres and limited or lack of knowledge by rights holders as to where teenagers can look for SRHR services, among others.
“Marginalised young girls are getting pregnant due to lack of information about their SRHR, lack of access to contraceptives, the limited number of health centres as well as the marginal support given by the community towards young girls seeking information about SRHR issues,” the CYDT said.
“CYDT observed that community members still view it taboo to discuss or engage with their children on issues to do with SRHR. As a result of lack of information, young girls do not challenge their parents when they force them into planned and early marriages.”
The CYDT also said the purpose of its “Needs Assessment” study was to identify the sexual and reproductive health-related youth needs and barriers to increasing access and utilisation of SRHR information and services.
In its recommendations to fight teenage pregnancies and child marriages, the CYDT said: “Local leaders, senior members of the community and community-based organisations must regularly engage each other to come out with practical strategies that will mitigate SRHR challenges faced in communities…”