By Mutsa Makuvaza
AN opposition MDC Alliance legislator has stirred a storm after she threw her weight behind a call by some activists to have Parliament amend the Public Health Act so that minors can access contraceptives in schools.
Dr. Ruth Labode, the proportional representation MP for Matebeleland North in the Nelson Chamisa-led party, says the move if implemented will reduce teenage pregnancies and rates of school dropouts.
She said that as many as 70,000 young people under 16 contract unwanted pregnancies each year and the contraceptives would reduce if not eliminate the challenge.
Speaking to Open Parly, Labode, who is a medical practitioner, also said contraceptives will reduce the rate of HIV transmission among young people under sixteen.
Her statement drew sharp criticism from a cross-section of Zimbabweans who accused her of running with a Western donor-funded project to dismantle the country’s conservative family values.
Zanu-PF acting youth league secretary Tendai Chirau said: “Dr. Labode must only give contraceptives to her children and leave the rest of our kids alone.”
Dr Labode for the past two Parliaments has been chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health. She has been instrumental in advocating for girls and women’s health rights in Zimbabwe.
The firebrand politician has also been pushing for the relaxation of abortion laws to ensure women get access to abortion services legally and conveniently.
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Adolescent pregnancy in Zimbabwe varies widely according to wealth, geographical location and education, the 2019 UNPFA state of the world population report says.
Zimbabwe has made it illegal for schools to expel pupils who get pregnant. Many parents of pregnant girls, or the girls themselves, decide to quit schooling due to the pregnancy, and schools do not always do enough to encourage them to stay.
In 2018, 12.5 percent of the country’s roughly 57,500 school dropouts stopped attending classes due to pregnancy or marriage reasons – almost all of them girls, according to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education statistics. – Zimbabwe Voice ■