Tuesday July 24 2012

Rwanda’s move on abortion is timely

It has been media reports that Rwandan President Paul Kagame has signed into a new penal code that among other provisions allows for abortion in certain circumstances. The new law provides that abortion is legal if as a resuIt has been media reports that Rwandan President Paul Kagame has signed into a new penal code that among other provisions allows for abortion in certain circumstances. The new law provides that abortion is legal if as a result of rape, forced marriage, incest in the second degree, lt of rape, forced marriage, incest in the second degree, or when the continuation of the pregnancy puts the life of the mother at risk.

This comes at a time when attitudes towards sexuality and procreation are evolving. A recent survey on girls in Uganda aged between 15 and 24 years shows that at least 23 per cent of girls/women in this age bracket have carried out an abortion, most of them in northern Uganda, where rape was used as a weapon in the more than 20-year-old war. In this practice that is as old as man, eight unsafe pregnancy terminations are carried out every passing hour as a birth control method. This makes it important that medical centres should rather give women proper information, enabling them to make informed decisions about their fecundity.

While many developed countries have a degree of tolerance to abortion, the practice remains illegal although widely practiced in the developing world, Uganda inclusive. In Kenya where it is punishable by a 14-year jail sentence, 50 per cent of gynecological admissions arise from complications resulting from incomplete abortions. Only two African countries, Togo and Tunisia, have legalised the practice. While Uganda has to cope with a fertility rate of 7.1, and the highest registered population growth rate in Africa, it also has a mortality rate of 1,200 deaths per 10,000 births and of the deaths, 35 per cent are due to abortions gone wrong.

That these statistics are on the rise is confirmation of the place tradition has consigned woman to in society. The average woman neither has a say about her reproductive rights, her fertility, family size, child spacing nor is she free to choose whether to have children or not. Studies show that more than 10,000 unsafe abortions are carried out every day by the under 25 yearlings in Africa because they are worse off if they keep a child they conceived out of wedlock and dammed if they abort the pregnancy, given the moral stigma (and legal implications) associated with the act.

It is with these considerations that young women take desperate risks to induce abortions, including the insertion of plants’ twigs and roots into their cervix, or the consumption of potentially lethal substances like detergents, gasoline, aspirin and chloroquine overdose.

Cases of the use of knitting needles, cloth hangers, etc, are also common. My argument is that the laws safeguarding the freedom of thought, conscience and belief that also dispense religious liberties, are not protective of some people from the larger beliefs, morals and ethics of the anti-abortion lobby. The law is in violation of the Constitution for failing to protect women’s rights, considering their unique status and functions.

The law should guard women from the cultural practices, traditions that undermine their dignity.

Ali Kaviri,
FOWODE Young Leaders Alumni Association
kvrali.harrison@gmail.com

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