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Illegal Abortions Continue To Kill Kenyan Girls and Women


By Alvin Mwangi

Every year almost half of all pregnancies – 121 million – are unintended. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO) report that was released in September last year. Between 2015 and 2019, on average, 73.3 million induced (safe and unsafe) abortions occurred worldwide each year.

In Kenya, high abortion figures continue to raise concern: a Reuters report published in August last year stated that thousands of women are dying every year in Kenya due to botched backstreet abortions.

Reuters cited a report from the Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) which found that almost half a million abortions were conducted in Kenya in 2012 – the most recent data available – with one in four resulting in complications such as fever, sepsis, shock or organ failure, according to health ministry data.

An estimated 2,600 women and girls die annually in Kenya, amounting to seven deaths every day, from complications related to unsafe abortions, said the CRR report.

Most victims are women and girls from impoverished urban and rural settlements who cannot afford private healthcare, and face stigma and discrimination seeking treatment in public hospitals.

Unsafe Abortion is mostly performed by Quacks and most of the young girls and women attempt to procure their abortions through ingestion of chemicals, concoctions, herbs and injections of objects into the reproductive tracts, applying pressure on the abdomen and even jumping from heights.

Access to quality and correct information and services on safe abortion will ensure that young girls and women’s future is better secured as they are able to choose on when to have a baby, thus able to invest on their education and employment, thus a better and brighter future is assured.

In Kenya, abortion is regulated by Article 26 (4) which states that: “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law” and the 2010 revised version of the 1970 penal code which describes different punishments regarding abortion laws.”

In 2019, the High Court in Nairobi further clarified that health workers permitted to make an opinion if abortion is necessary include, nurses, clinical officers, obstetrician gynecologist, midwives and doctors. This means that when a girl or a woman is at physical, mental or psychological health risk, a health care provider will assess and provide an option to terminate the pregnancy along with comprehensive and accurate information on abortion.

In 2012, the Ministry of Health in Kenya had made progress by adopting the standards and guidelines for managing unintended and risky pregnancies and post-abortion care which provided technical guidelines for health care workers to offer lifesaving assistance to the extent allowed by law. However, one year later, the ministry withdrew the guidelines and the national curriculum for management of risky and unintended pregnancies which instilled fear among health workers and resulted in constant harassment by police.

Access to quality and correct information and services on safe abortion will ensure that young girls and women’s future is better secured as they will be able to choose when to have a baby and consequently invest in their education and employment.

Young girls and women continue to face life threatening situations and even loose their lives from this acts of violence. Survivors of rape or any other form of sexual violence that leads to pregnancy are entitled to safe and legal abortion without any form of further victimization.

What is the government doing to ensure we all save lives? Kenya has witnessed an increase in cases around gender based violence for both men, children and women, and lives have been lost. We have an opportunity to make a difference for the better and everyone of us has a role to play, our individual and collective roles should be operationalized to ensure we are saving present and future lives.

Our Kenya 2010 Constitution guarantees all Kenyans Right to Health including Reproductive Health and Emergency Medical Health under Article 43 (1) (a) and 43 (2), through this the government should be willing and able to abide by this law.

Girls and Women are entitled to receive and exercise power, The Power of Choice. Unsafe abortion, A serious yet preventable public health problem, can be avoided, The government through the Health Ministry should immediately reinstate and effectively operationalize the standards and guidelines for abortion and ensure implementation across all counties which will ensure there is free and wide access of safe abortion information and services and a wide variety of methods which clearly provide clarity of the law. This will ensure that we do not lose more girls and women to unsafe abortions.

Alvin Mwangi

Sexual Reproductive health and rights advocate

Nairobi, Kenya

Twitter: @alvinmwangi254