Zvamaida Murwira-Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe’s decision to decriminalise HIV/AIDS transmission has courted world attention as legislators have been invited to Brussels, Belgium, by a global women and children’s rights group to celebrate the milestone that the country has achieved.
Parliament’s Portfolio committee on Health and Child Care chairperson, Dr Ruth Labode, said she and some committee members will be heading to Brussels next month for an international conference following an invitation extended to them by SheDecides.
SheDecides is a movement supporting the rights of women and girls to celebrate the several milestones Zimbabwe has achieved in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
Chief among the achievements that excited global SRHR groups was the passage by Parliament of the Marriages Amendment Bill last month, which among other objectives, decriminalise transmission of HIV/AIDS.
The law now awaits assent by the President for it to become law.
Dr Labode said this yesterday during a conference attended by legislators and civic society organisations convened by the Sadc Parliamentary Forum aimed at reflecting on issues to do with SRHR.
She said the decision to decriminalise HIVAIDS, while it was still to get due recognition in the country particularly among civic societies, the global community was excited by the strides being made in the health sector.
Dr Labode said at some point during the conference, she had to interject during a presentation by one of the facilitators after she said her experience had shown that Zimbabwe’s health sector seemed to be regressing.
“I disagreed with that. We have registered a lot in the health sector. We are actually going to Brussels for SheDecides conference to celebrate our achievements particularly in decriminalising HIV/AIDS. There are a lot of issues to talk about that we have achieved as a country,” said Dr Labode.
She said as a health practitioner, she was one of those proponents advocating for the criminalisation of HIV/AIDS in the 1990s but on hindsight, she realised that it was not prudent to do so.
Dr Labode said it was a responsibility of an individual to protect himself or herself from the disease and not the Government.
“Regarding the law that criminalised HIV transmission, I am one of those people who lobbied for it in the 1990s because there was no Anti-Retroviral Therapy then. But later on, and from several discussions, we realised that you can send a wrong person to jail because you cannot scientifically prove who would have infected another,” she said.
Assistant Council to Parliament, Ms Elizabeth Hove, outlined several legal instruments Parliament has dealt with to enhance SRHR and they include the Marriages Amendment Bill, Children’s Amendment Bill, Child Justice Bill.
Sadc PF consultant, Advocate Choice Damiso, said while Zimbabwe had registered a lot on legal reforms, more needs to be done in ensuring that the law continues to keep abreast with developments in the medical field as part of efforts to enhance SRHR.
She said the Termination of Pregnancy Act promulgated in 1977 was now outdated given that it only confers right to public health centres to lawfully terminate pregnancy yet it could equally be done in private health institutions.
Advocate Damiso said there was need to harmonise laws regarding children’s rights given that the Constitution defined a child as someone below the age of 18, yet the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act allowed a girl aged 16 to lawfully consent to sexual activities.
She said the Public Health Act required that children got parental consent for them to access medical care.
“What this means in effect is that a 16 year old child has the right to engage in sexual activity but requires parental consent to access reproductive health services,” said Advocate Damiso.