Wanjiku is only 12 years old. A young girl with dreams and hopes. A girl who should be laughing and playing outside with her friends as young girls do but she doesn’t. She has a guilty secret. Outside she’s calm, with a plastered smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. Inside she’s a storm, emotions of anger and shame burn.
When Wanjiku comes home, he is home. He comes home early to wait for her. She cries into her pillow, when she’s not trying to push away his hands, as he holds her down, has his pleasure with her. He likes it when she hurts when she struggles. When he’s done he smokes a cigarette and tries to hug her and tell her he loves her. Wanjiku flinches when he touches her and tries to curl herself into a ball. When he’s done with smoking, masking the scent of sex he leaves, after warning her for the millionth time not to tell. He then leaves for the bar to drink with his friends. She cries her eyes out but she has to get dinner ready. Her mother will be home late, she runs a kiosk that’s quite far from the house.
Wanjiku drags herself to the bathroom, and tries to scrub him off her but he is in her head, the smell and taste of his alcoholic breath imprinted in her brain. She wears her home clothes and goes to make breakfast. Then a key is heard turning in the lock, and an older tired version of her walks in. They sit in the sitting room quietly. Children are to be seen and not heard.
In the morning Wanjiku heads for school. She leaves the house where her dreams and hopes are shattered and her childhood stolen. A home where she is a substitute for her mum who works late, a sexual slave of incest to the man she calls Dad. He started when she was 9 and now each day a bit of her fades away, her 12-year-old self turns old before her time.
Wanjiku is sick. She has been throwing up for the last 2 months. She doesn’t know what is wrong with her. Her teacher suspects and asks her to call her parents. Her father comes to school. He is such a “responsible” parent. He tells the teacher he will take her to the doctor for a checkup. The teacher gives the father a number of a doctor. Her father takes her to the quark doctor who performs abortions. When they reach home she goes to bed because she is weak. The bleeding starts and doesn’t stop. She is terrified, her mother has come home and she can’t tell her what happened. Her father warned her against telling her mother anything, there would be consequences. So Wanjiku slowly bleeds to death.
The other day I was reading a story about how the school system has been infiltrated by illegal abortion providers. These providers have agents in the schools who report and direct pregnant girls to them. This system is aided by teachers and even parents. Parents it seemed also protect teachers who made girls pregnant. These parents see this as a form of income. Girls who would like to keep their babies are pressured into unsafe abortions by quarks. Unfortunately, they are the only ones to deal with the consequences, some develop infections, some become infertile and some even lose their lives.
Abortion is such an emotional subject. Some are totally against it, some believe that it should be allowed when a mother’s life is in danger and some believe that abortion is generally a personal decision that somebody has to make. Maybe that is why the issue was a hot topic when discussing the constitution of Kenya before it was passed.
Last week a petition, Constitutional Petition no. 266 of 2015 was filed at the Nairobi High Court. The petition was about the contravention of fundamental rights and freedoms of women and the enforcement of the bill of rights. FIDA petitioned the government on behalf of some human rights NGO’s, and a minor who we shall call JMM. JMM is an adolescent girl who suffers from a chronic health problem following an unsafe abortion after defilement. The Petitioners in the case allege both violations of and threats to fundamental rights and freedoms in their own interest and in the public interest in accordance with Articles 22 (1) & (2) (b) & (c) and 258 (1) & (2) (b) & (c) of the Constitution.
To understand the case you have to understand the background of the story. As part of the implementation of the 2010 constitution, the Ministry of Health developed standards and guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion. They were adopted and then withdrawn in unclear circumstances. In Feb 2014 the Director of Medical Services issued a memo to all health workers stating that the constitution of Kenya 2010 is clear that abortion on demand is illegal. The memo did not clarify under which grounds abortion is legal. This has meant that medical professionals cannot carry out safe abortions even if it is to save a woman’s life. The memo also stated that there is no need for training health workers on safe abortion care all training were to be stopped and failure to comply could lead to legal and professional recourse.
This puts the lives of women who need an abortion for medical or emergency reasons at risk because no medical professional would want to risk the legal ramifications to carry out such an abortion. Why is The Ministry of Health saying that there is no need for training on safe abortion care when there is a ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital filled with women seeking post-abortion care for botched abortions? Why is it possible for a woman to get post-abortion care but not for her to get a safe abortion to save her life in a case of an ectopic pregnancy? Something is very wrong.
There is a myth that the only women having abortions are promiscuous women. This is not true. A study done has found that the women having abortions are married. Many girls are also being forced into abortions by their families or the man responsible. There are also women who have been raped who need to have safe abortions but they can’t because of what the Ministry of Health has said. Here are some of the myths and misconceptions Surrounding Abortion in Kenya.