Source: The Herald
Last year many women's rights activists and the general populace celebrated the legal ban of child marriages.
The promise of a policy that will see parents and guardians face prosecution for accepting lobola for child brides was announced later, tightening loopholes that existed in the multiple marriage laws in the country.
But somewhere in jubilation, we seem to have missed out on one important aspect; that of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. The gap has been brought sharply into focus by the inquest into the death of Gracious Banda who died in October 2013 at Kwekwe General Hospital due to pregnancy related complications.
As reported by our sister paper Chronicle in its 18 April edition, the inquest seems to be focused on whether the hospital did its best for the young woman. Gracious Banda needed oxygen, a scan and some drugs, all of which the hospital could not provide at the time.
Banda was in hospital for two days before she died.
Zimbabwe is currently fighting to bring down maternal death rates which although falling remain too high. In 2014, the World Health Organisation put the mortality at 614 per 100 000 live births, down from 930 in 2009. This compares badly to other countries with rates as low as two deaths per 100 000 live births.
Sadly, it is mostly girls and young women like Gracious Banda who make up most of the numbers of those tragic statistics. It is also young women who are most likely not to access prenatal care and medically-assisted deliveries. As a country we need to consider whether legislation on child marriages is enough to protect the girl child.
Statistics indicate that while new infection rates are falling in the adult age groups they are going up among the young people.
It should also be noted that not all sexual activity is between young girls and older men. Young people are indulging among themselves with common law marriages happening between two parties who are both minors.
How will the law deal with a 15-year-old boy marrying a 14-year-old girl? Both children will already be facing challenges while they are still kids themselves and are often caught in a vicious cycle of poverty.
The burden is especially heavy on the girl child who in addition to risking disease also faces the danger of childbirth before her body is fully prepared to cope with the ordeal of labour. Complications such as obstetric fistula occur more in adolescents than in older women.
Maternal mortality is something that can be prevented in the majority of cases if a woman receives adequate prenatal care from qualified medical personnel. It is generally accepted that age, education and socio-economic status count. The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to be educated beyond basic literacy and have the knowledge and financial means to access proper prenatal health services.
If the inquest into Banda's tragic death does establish culpability on the part of the hospital it will save other women from medical personnel negligence.
That is good. But it will not do much for the pregnant young girl who does not seek medical attention on time.
We need to buttress anti-child marriage legislation with practical policies to save the girl child from unplanned parenthood and when it does happen, we need effective support mechanisms to ensure safety for the young mother and her baby.