Claudine was an innocent 14-year-old girl, until one night in December a boy, an adolescent like her, raped her — leaving her pregnant. It all happened when she was running away from her abusive stepfather and went to stay at the house of a friend, as she often did.
Amelia Duarte de la Rosa
All she remembers of that day is that it was during the Made-in-Rwanda Expo, and that her friend left her alone in the middle of the night with the supposed acquaintance, while she went to get a packet of cigarettes.
Claudine returned home, sobbing and defenceless, without anybody noticing what had happened until months later.
She could only give details of the incident to her mother, 30 days after it happened, and it was then they agreed that an abortion was her only option.
According to Rwanda’s new penal law, amended in August 2018, abortion can be obtained legally under five conditions.
Claudine met two of them: she was a child and the pregnancy was the result of a rape. However, there was a problem. There was still no ministerial order updating the provisions on abortion, therefore the doctors refused to carry out the procedure. The mother and daughter turned to the court and lodged a petition at the Intermediate Court of Nyarugenge, but in March 2019 this was rejected.
When, in May, the Ministry of Health finally issued the terms under which an abortion could be performed, Claudine was already four months pregnant and the abortion could not be carried out.
Claudine’s case (not her real name) made the headlines, due to the absurdity of the red tape, in clear opposition to the government’s will, which was accused of delaying the proceedings.
But while this young girl could at least hold on to the idea of having a legal, safe abortion, prior to August 2018 any action linked to reproductive rights required the approval of a tribunal and two doctors to allow the procedure.
In Rwanda, since 2012, abortion is only legal in cases of rape, incest (including second cousins), forced marriage, or danger to the health of the mother or foetus.
However, a tribunal and two doctors were needed to allow the procedure. Parliament revised this law in 2018 and widened access to safe abortion services by removing the requirement to obtain judicial and medical authorisation.
In accordance with the constitutional provisions of articles published in August 2018, women, including girls under the age of 18, have the right to abort a pregnancy before 22 weeks. For its part, a ministerial order issued in May of this year establishes that the woman should inform the doctor of the reason for the abortion, but does not have to go into precise detail.
Prior to this, women had to wait weeks or months to receive a decision on the procedure, something which came with its own set of limitations. The new legislation also establishes that only a qualified doctor who works in a public hospital or a recognised clinic can carry out an abortion.
The order describes what a request from someone seeking an abortion must contain, and specifies that when the pregnant woman is under 18, a guardian or legal representative must make the request.
This new legal provision met with opposition from the country’s most conservative sectors and raised speculation that it encouraged abortion.
In its defence, doctor Aflodis Kagaba, executive director of Health Development Initiative-Rwanda, clarifies that the laws are not designed to increase abortions, but to save the lives of those women who would have an abortion anyway.
Africa leads the world rankings as the region with the least safe abortions, followed by Oceania and Latin America, according to the source.
The continent is one of the most restrictive in terms of women’s rights, and it is estimated that only one in every four abortions is carried out in safe conditions.
In ten of Africa’s 55 countries, the practice of abortion is totally prohibited in all of its forms: Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, and Senegal. At the same time, it is only totally legal in three: South Africa, Tunisia and Cape Verde, meaning that 93% of African women live in states with restrictive abortion laws. (PL)
(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Photos: Pixabay