The government has been challenged to intervene as the number of young girls aged between 13 and 16 years falling pregnant increases among the vapostori sects, risking their lives and those of the unborn children.
A survey by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that thousands of adolescent pregnancies have been attended to at various hospitals and clinics in Zimbabwe, with Buhera Ward 22 recording 271 cases in less than a month.
In Muzarabani, Mashonaland Central, a church survey revealed that 251 cases of adolescent pregnancies had been recorded at a clinic in the district.
Between 33% and 38% of Zimbabweans belong to various apostolic sects and most do not seek medical treatment meaning the numbers of adolescent pregnancies could be higher than those recorded in the survey.
Girls in the sects are married as soon as they finish primary education and, as one believer put it; “our religion does not allow us to take any form of contraception because it’s murder.”
UNICEF also said there was low uptake of maternal and child health services among sect members, leading to high maternal deaths in these communities.
Mandy Chikombero, the local UNICEF spokesperson, said authorities must come up with a package of immediate and long term interventions to address the problem.
She said “low value” is been placed on the child’s life as sect members use holy water, oil, mealie- meal, salt, stones in the healing processes before and after delivery of babies.
However, Zimbabwe Community Development Association official, Camilias Machingura, accused health service providers of failing to engage the sects and understand their values.
“There is a knowledge gap and improper packaging of knowledge by health service providers in the country.
“The sect members are being stigmatised when they visit health centres, so attitudes should be changed towards the particular group,” said Machingura.
He said health extension workers needed training on how to engage sect members.
“Confrontational, prescriptive and coercive approaches should be avoided. This group is willing to be included in modern methods of healing at health institutions,” he added.