BY NEVANJI MADANHIRE
WHEN Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga thinks of a girl of 16 he envisions a nymph in a royal blue skirt, beige blouse, beige blazer, brown shoes and beige socks, all topped up with a royal blue hat balancing delicately on a mop of oiled hair, going to the Dominican Convent.
It is with this girl in mind that he declares: “No contraceptives for underage girls.” He argues that because girls under 16 cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse therefore they cannot make the decision to go on contraception.
The reality on the ground is far removed from the Dominican Convent, (if the Convent girls themselves are not indulging in under-age sex too!) A recent report says there are 500 000 girls under 16 who are out of school. Thousands live on our streets while thousands upon thousands are living in some of the most unimaginable circumstances in which they are abused every day. Thousands upon thousands have joined the band of artisanal miners and work with young and old men from whom they seek cohabitation as some kind of “security” which in fact is all about sexual abuse.
A huge number of girls are forced into church cults that have legitimised under-age marriage while others simply have no choice but to marry older men.
In low-income suburbs and squatter settlements young girls live among predatory men who would not care less what happens to them. For all these girls the choice is stark: break out or turn into a baby-making machine and brace for an early death. They know the burden of looking after the children will be thrust upon them and them alone while the men continue from where they left off, impregnating more girls.
For a lot of them contraception becomes a measure to buy their time while they contemplate their next step. In the 1960s and 1970s majority African men did not allow their wives to go on contraception; some men still do. But the women got contraceptives anyway, secretly from clinics and from community advisers. They developed ways of hiding the contraceptives and their men never got to know. That was the only way they could live healthy lives.
The girls will get contraceptives anyway, but often from bad sources and that will create a whole new problem for the country. When they use wrong drugs they will have to seek remedy in the formal healthcare system at great cost to the nation. Wrong medicines will also result in a generation of mentally and physically challenged children.
Fact: our children are having sex as early as 11; no one wants that to happen, but it’s the reality on the ground. The onset of puberty has grossly shifted southwards. Circumstances differ for every child and sexual health now has to be part of the education curriculum from as early as Grade 4, so that children can make informed choices as they enter puberty.