Adolescent girls and young women have a right to know: Accessing information on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the wake of COVID-19Posted: 22 October, 2020
Author: Kerigo Odada
Human Rights Lawyer; LLM (Sexual & Reproductive Rights in Africa) student, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
For many adolescent girls and young women around the world, adolescence marks not only the commencement of puberty, but also a time where statistically, the risk of facing human rights abuses such as sexual violence, exploitation, and other adverse outcomes of sex increases. However, despite this high predisposition to abuse, adolescent girls and young women still face multiple barriers in accessing information on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Discriminatory cultural values, laws, and policies that are driven by the stigma attached to sexuality have made it challenging for members of this social group to enjoy full access to much needed SRHR information.
As of April 2020, about 1.725 billion students worldwide were forced out of learning institutions due to COVID-19. Although the closure of schools and other lockdown measures were strategic in controlling the spread of COVID-19, this situation unfortunately meant that many adolescent girls and young women were now confined in homes where they were, and still are, at a heightened risk of prolonged sexual abuse, exploitation and negative outcomes of sex.
On May 8th, 2015 a press release revealed that the Tanzanian President, Jakaya Kikwete, has signed the controversial Cybercrimes Bill which seeks to criminalize acts related to computer systems and information and communication technologies and to provide for a system of investigation, collection and use of electronic evidence. The said law has serious implications for constitutional and international human rights, particularly freedom of expression and information online and the right to privacy. The most controversial provisions relate to criminalization of sharing of information, extensive police powers of search and seizure, surveillance without judicial authorization as well numerous vaguely defined offences.
It is important to note that that freedom of expression is one of the fundamental aspects of human life. As human beings, we need freedom to develop and share thoughts or ideas about things that happen and influence the way we live. Freedom of opinion, expression and information encourages free debate and plurality of ideas which is important for development of any society. More importantly, these rights are internationally recognised human rights. They are engrained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (art.19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (art.19) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 1981 (art.9), all of which have been ratified by Tanzania.