...Psychosocial support needed to avoid mental illness surge

Traumatic youth encounters on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) have been put on spotlight for law makers on the SADC bloc, to chew over and come up with appropriate legislations to prevent the disturbing reality being witnessed across the region.

The harrowing experiences shared by SADC citizens making submissions during a virtual public hearing of the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) are expected to shape discussions at the 52nd Plenary Session of the forum, slated for 5th December in Kinshasa, DRC.

SADC PF Committee on Human and Social Development and Special Programmes (HSDSP) recently heard that SRHR issues are a ticking time bomb with nauseating social and economic implications.

HSDSP Committee was told that young girls were being lured to sex by older men, which has become a route to child marriage, however communities advocate for such cases to be solved out of the judiciary system or police officers get brides to end investigations into child marriages reported cases.

Sharing her submission, before the HSDSP Committee, Loveness Mudzuru a Social Worker and Researcher at Rozaria Memorial Trust in Zimbabwe said women that have experienced child marriages need psychosocial support.

“Our women are becoming suicidal after experiencing child marriages, as we have seen quite a number of these toxic relationship experience divorce. Members of Parliament should push for governments to make mandatory the psychosocial support,” Mudzuru said, bemoaning that if psychosocial support are not well integrated into the region’s health system, SADC will find itself burdened by a “huge number of people suffering from mental illness.

SADC has also been urged to review the members’ sexual age of consent, as perpetrators of child marriages escape the long arm of the law.

On the other hand, Chairmane Picardo from SAFAIDS bemoaned COVID-19 pandemic that saw an upsurge in gender based violence resulting in unwanted pregnancies as women could not access SRHR services, including getting contraceptive.

She said the trend forced many women to have unsafe abortion, as 14 of the 16 SADC countries have restrictive policies on abortion, calling for legislators to consider lobbying for safe abortion. Currently only South Africa, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Namibia and Mozambique have specific abortion laws.

“Over 80 million abortions occur in Africa every year with 50 percent of these being committed in jurisdictions with restrictive policies and laws,” Picardo said.

Adding her sentiments on the SRHR issues, Millicent Sethaile, a youth representative under Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT) said low level of education on SRHR, high HIV/AIDS infection among youth and commodity stock

are a challenge in sexual reproductive health.

“For example in Botswana, it has been 14 months without the most preferred contraceptive for the young people which is the implant,” Sethaile said, lamenting that less than 50 percent of youth have knowledge on sexual reproductive health issues.

She also bewailed the early dropout of many adolescent girls from school due to pregnancies perpetuated by not having access to SRHR services.