Maureen Bii during the distribution of sanitary towels to 500 girls in Ogiek. Photo Credit: Maureen Bii

Should abortion be a crime in Kenya?

Residents of Nyalenda in Kisumu County of Kenya are still recovering from a very traumatic incident where a 16-year-old girl was found lying in the corridor of their home half dead as a result of unsafe abortion.

On that fateful day, Elizabeth (name changed for confidentiality) was found vomiting and bleeding profusely from her genitals by her mother who screamed for help. She was then rushed to the hospital and eventually was able to receive post-abortion care. However, consequences of her action, aside the trauma is also a loss of womb.

Elizabeth’s case is just one that is just a drop in the ocean of such unsafe abortion cases reported in Kisumu County.

According to the African Population and Health Research Centre, unsafe abortion remains one of the five leading causes of maternal morbidity and mortality in Kenya with close to half a million women undergoing unsafe abortions yearly. More than half of all abortions are performed unsafely, with herbs, coat hangers, spoons, knitting needles and harmful pharmaceuticals.

With the population increase, the study also indicates that 40 to 45 percent of the pregnancies in Kenya are unplanned. The study further shows that of the country’s eight regions, Nyanza — where Elizabeth lives  — recorded the second highest number of abortion cases at 36,842 with rift valley leading at 38,687.

The majority of the women who procure unsafe abortion are young and poor and end up with serious health complications.

Lack of information and comprehensive sexuality education, failure to access quality and affordable contraceptives of their choice,  abortion laws and lack of safe abortion services are some of the factors that push women to seek unsafe abortion services.

The deaths and injuries caused by unsafe abortion can be prevented if the Ministry of Health takes decisive action to protect the health, lives, families, and future of Kenyan women. Kenya did sign and ratify Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa that among other things provide and expands grounds for safe abortion. Article 2 of the Kenyan constitution states that the general rules of international law shall form part of the legislation of Kenya.

There is also need for the government to offer age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to all young people in and out of school. Comprehensive sexuality education would significantly contribute to the prevention of unintended and unplanned pregnancies.

Punitive abortion laws also need to be reviewed and amended. When abortion is illegal, the risks increase for women. Research around the world shows that when governments restrict abortion, women still have abortions. They just have more dangerous ones. According to a UN report, the average unsafe abortion rate was more than four times greater in countries with restrictive abortion policies than in countries with liberal abortion policies.

 

Michael Okun Oliech is a communication officer at dance4life Kenya, a youth serving Non-Governmental Organization that does sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy and behavior change communication. He has a BA in Development Studies, undergone training on media advocacy, and budget advocacy by Network for Adolescents and Youths of Africa- Kenya and Choice for Youth and Sexuality of the Netherlands. He is also a well-known blogger on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Issues, a human rights activist, LGBT rights defender and youth advocate at Network for Adolescents and Youths of Africa. His twitter handle is @mikeokunson.

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