Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara has challenged members of Parliament (MPs) to reflect on linkages between Covid-19 pandemic and teenage pregnancies if emerging challenges faced by girls and young mothers are to end.
The Speaker was opening a day-long Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum (Sadc-PF) local workshop for lawmakers and civil society organisations (CSOs) on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR).
Said Hara: “Over the past four to five months of Covid-19, evidence has illustrated the alarming increase in sexual and gender-based violence cases, unintended pregnancies and child marriages. This calls for Parliament to reflect on the linkages which exist between Covid-19 and sexual and reproductive health.
“Many adolescent girls and young women have limited access to contraceptives, social protection or legal aid. Their capacity to preserve their rights and autonomy of their bodies has been compromised.”
In an interview, the Speaker further observed: “Because of Covid-19, services are no longer accessible. We have quite a number of young girls not interested to go to the hospital because they think if they do, they are putting themselves at risk of Covid-19 infection.”
But law expert Justin Dzonzi in an interview said Parliament should look at holistic factors fuelling an increase in teenage pregnancies rather than contemplating laws.
He stated: “When one is looking at factors behind an increase in the number of girls getting pregnant it would be naïve to look at it as happening because of Covid-19. The increase is happening within social contexts such as poverty.”
Ministry of Health director of reproductive health Fannie Kachale acknowledged that there is low patronage of young girls and women accessing sexual reproductive health services because of Covid-19 despite services being provided nationwide.
She said there is a need for stakeholders’ interventions, including lobbying for more budget funding for family planning commodities, adding that her unit will need a disbursement of K250 million for three-months worth of family planning commodities.
SHRH researcher Gomezgani Ngwira, who is also Sadc-PF Malawi chapter project officer, said MPs will be given the capacity to properly understand SRH issues to enable them make informed interventions.