Young people’s sexual & reproductive health during the COVID-19 #8 / By Tariro Noel Nyamubarwa.
According to World Health Organization (WHO) at least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescents girls aged 15-19 years in the developing world and of the estimated 5,6million abortions that occur each year 3,9million are unsafe contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems.
Teenage pregnancies crisis affects both the developed and developing countries. They are however more rampant in marginalised communities influenced by poor socio-economic status, lack of education and insecure livelihoods. Furthermore, teenage pregnancies are exacerbated by rape, early marriages, peer pressure, drug abuse and lack of youth friendly reproductive health services such as contraceptives, condoms and education.
Pregnant young women at risk of during the crisis.
The current catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly brought pain and misery on face of the earth and continue to stress the struggling health infrastructure in countries like Zimbabwe. The pandemic has forced many countries to go under lockdown as a way of containing and hopefully stopping the spread of the virus. Such countries that have taken up this measure is our very own, Zimbabwe. With the lockdown in place, movement have been restricted, learning have been suspended together with religious gatherings meaning no more youth gatherings in places of worship. This has had a colossal impact on the Sexual and Reproductive Health of young people in the country and across the globe. These include the need to ensure all adolescents and youth access comprehensive and age-responsive information, education and adolescent-friendly reproductive health goods and services so as to be able to make free and informed decisions and choices about their sexuality and reproductive lives. Ideally, this is to adequately protect themselves from unintended pregnancies, all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS. These safe guards are necessary in aiding safe transition into adulthood.
Irresponsible indulgence in sexual activities
Currently there has been a great shift in focus in the country and worldwide to cater for the perilous Covid-19 pandemic hence overlooking areas like SRHR. However, the hard reality at this time is sexual feelings in young people and youths have not subsidised as a result of the virus. The ‘stay at home’ mantra means that adolescents are now idle and now have plenty of time at their disposal. This might lead to them engaging in sexual activities irresponsibly leading to unsafe sex. On the other hand, the pandemic could make the accessibility of sexual and reproductive health goods and services like contraceptives, information, condoms and sanitary wear difficulty as people fear risk of exposure to the virus or due to restrictions in travelling. The factors could lead to an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections.
An increase in teenage pregnancies and STIs could threaten the future of young people as they can be forced to drop out of school. Furthermore, early childhood marriages, stigma, rejection and premature death as a result of unsafe abortions are also the likely outcomes of the pandemic.
Due to cultural and religious beliefs sex topics are still largely considered as a taboo in many developing countries around the globe, Zimbabwe included. As a result many parents shun such topics or they would rather have third parties such as ‘aunties’, ‘uncles’ and their friends to have their children taught on even elementary issues around sex and sexuality. With the adolescents and teenagers now at home indefinitely and governments imposing varied curfews and lockdowns, the likelihood of the ‘inexperienced’ or ‘ignorant’ parents engaging their children in this topic is inevitable. The question is, do they have right information concerning the matter? Are they well equipped to handle this topic? What or who will they turn to? The fact is that adolescents and young people still need the right information to enable them make well informed choices and decisions. The pandemic has in no way suspended that right. Right to access to reproductive health information and services is now more important more than ever as lack of these services and information can have dire impacts on the lives of young people.
Sexual & Gender-based violence
Women and children suffer domestic violence at the hands of their partners
The world is already witnessing signs of a surge in violence against women and children with organizations such as the Musasa Project recording an increase in the number of reports since the onset of the national lockdown. The pandemic puts young people at risk especially girls and young women by cutting them off from essential protection services and social networks. This could be in the form of rape, intimate partner violence (IPV), physical abuse and psychological abuse as they are in confinement together with their abusers. Mounting household tension and economic stresses could also play a role.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a wreaking havoc on a wide array of health, economic, social, and personal decision. It is easy to forget sexual and reproductive health rights for teenagers and adolescents at this moment in time. However, it is also paramount that mitigation measures to curtail the spread of the virus should also include decisive and innovative government programs that will continue to provide sexual and reproductive health information and services to adolescents and young people during this period.