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COVID-19 Leads To Surge Of Child Mothers

Failure to access sexual and reproductive health services has resulted in unwanted pregnancies among youths. Image by Pindula News

BY GEORGINA SOKO | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | MAY 6, 2022  

The United Nations Population Fund says COVID-19 restrictions delayed interventions against child marriage and caused a long-lasting economic downturn that will push more families into poverty, which is a key driver of child marriages.

GWANDA (The Citizen Bulletin) — Sihle Ndlovu shakes her head in despair as her hand traces the contours of her bulging stomach.

At just 20, Ndlovu, a mother of two, is 6 months pregnant.

Hers is an unwanted pregnancy; a result of failure to access sexual and reproductive health services (SRHS) at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I was using birth control pills but I could not replenish my supplies after the lockdowns were introduced,” Ndlovu who hails from Guyu, Gwanda district, says.

“We would at times get SRHS from Population Services International (PSI) who would occasionally visit our area…these services were stopped when lockdowns were introduced.”

As the pandemic caused havoc across the world, Zimbabwe like many other central governments responded by imposing lockdowns, curtailing access to contraceptive and menstrual health supplies as well as comprehensive sex education.

Notably, the Health and Child Care ministry and development partners have established youth-friendly corners at health facilities to make SRHS which were not available during the lockdowns more accessible.

Buwalo Matilikilo Trust (BMT) director, Anna Mandizha-Ncube says the pandemic reversed gains towards ensuring access to SRHS.

“COVID-19 greatly negatively impacted SRHS accessibility,” Mandizha-Ncube says.

The BMT has been running the Social Accountability Monitoring component of SRHS.

“COVID-19 also posed a serious threat to the Social Accountability Monitoring component of SRHS. Young women, adolescents and teenage mothers were seriously affected and made even more vulnerable because of the inability to free movement and access to these services at health facilities during the lockdowns.”
Anna Mandizha-Ncube, BMT Director

Young people who spoke to The Citizen Bulletin say they had challenges in accessing SRHS including testing and treatment for STIs as well as contraception.

Birth control pills

“As youths we could not easily access condoms for free as it was the norm. We could not afford to buy the condoms at the shops, forcing us to engage in unprotected sex,” Micah Nyathi aged 20 says.

The central government says nearly 5,000 teenage girls became pregnant in January and February and about 1,800 entered early marriages during the same period in 2021, resulting in school dropouts.

Mandizha-Ncube says there are still existing gaps when it comes to SRHS to prevent unwanted and teenage pregnancies.

“There is a need for the alignment of laws with regards to who can access which services and at what age,” she notes.

ALSO READ: In Mat North, Sexual Health Gets Little Attention, With Devastating Results

There is a raging debate on whether condoms should be distributed in schools.

However, the Health and Child care ministry says the central government will not distribute condoms in schools but will pursue other HIV intervention strategies.

Mandizha-Ncube adds: “Most rural health facilities lack the technological benefits enjoyed by urban or peri-urban health centres and to make it worse there is also a lack of political will by all actors involved to ensure adequate and easy access to SRHS.”

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