To abort or not to abort: The dilemma of a 14-year old

Teenage mothers at Centre Marembo in Gasabo District being taken through the reproductive cycle by a health worker. Emmanuel Kwizera.

HER step father despises her and, on most days, throws her out of the family home that she has to spend a night with neighbours.

It was under such circumstances that 14-year old Claudine (not real name) found herself at the mercy of a teenage vagabond, who raped her and left her with a pregnancy.

She is now four months pregnant.

Under her circumstances – currently in primary four, with no permanent place to call home and with a mother who has no financial means – her only option was to abort.

The new penal law, which came into force in August last year, sets out five exemptions under which one can procure legal abortion.

Claudine fulfils two; she is a child herself, and the pregnancy is as a result of rape.

But there is a problem.

She cannot procure the abortion because there is no ministerial order to guide these exemptions.

The genesis

When Claudine was four, her mother married the man with whom she still lives in the slam area of Cyahafi, in Gitega Sector, Nyarugenge District.

The stepfather, a casual labourer who is often intoxicated, despised the young girl and has made sure both Claudine and her mother know that he despises her.

In fact, when The New Times tried to interview her from the family home, the stepfather scolded her and the mother, and we had to go elsewhere to conduct the interview.

“I couldn’t take her to her biological father because she cannot find there better love or security,” the mother told The New Times in an interview.

I am actually not sure they can take her in, she says.

Her stepfather could not pay school fees for the girl and the mother had no source of income which retarded Claudine’s education.

Fortunately, the mother found some organisation in 2017 that offered to meet all her requirements for school and that is how she managed to go back to school.

Because of the outbursts by the stepfather, Claudine has found it okay to spend some nights at the different neighbours in this slum, from where she will head straight to school.

This was until the fateful night between November 28 and December 3 last year.

She does not recall the exact day but the only thing she remembers is that it was during the Made-in-Rwanda Expo that was held between the above dates, at the Expo Grounds in Gikondo, a city suburb.

A friend – herself a teen mother from one of the homes where she would periodically spend a night whenever chased by her stepfather – asked Claudine to accompany her to the expo, for window shopping.

“She told me we would go with two other young men one of them is called Alphonse and is known in the neighbourhood as Gugu. He had offered to cover our transport to Gikondo and back,” she narrated.

The boys took their time at the expo and the girls, with no fare of their own, had no option but wait.

“At around 7pm, we boarded a taxi to town from where we had to walk the remaining distance to Cyahafi, via Restoration Church” she recollects.

Somewhere along the way, Gugu pretended he was tired and sat down.

“He then sent the other two companions for cigarettes and I found myself alone with him,” she said. They never returned.

Alone and under the cover of darkness, Gugu, who was feared in the neighbourhood because of his addiction to drugs, raped the young girl.

She went home sobbing, and helpless.

A few weeks later, Gugu was rounded up with other delinquents and sent to Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Training Centre, where delinquents –mostly drug addicts – are sent to not only sober up but also acquire life skills.

He is still at Iwawa, probably unaware of the consequences of his actions that night.

“A month later, one lady in the neighbourhood told me she suspected I was pregnant and asked me to never return to her house,” she said.

Claudine had herself noticed some bodily changes, including missing her periods, but was still skeptical, even as places of refuge in the neighbourhood became fewer because of the rumour that she was pregnant.

This is when she summoned the courage to narrate her ordeal to her mother in early January 2019.

The mother had herself just given birth a few days back and therefore too weak to follow up with her daughter’s case.

She then asked the mentor that was assigned to Claudine by the organisation that pays her school fees to help her follow up.

On January 12, 2019, the mentor took the teen to Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) who referred them to Nyarugenge District Hospital where doctors confirmed that she was indeed pregnant.

Fortunately, further tests found no sexually transmitted diseases.

For about a month, the mother pondered on how young her daughter was, the financial struggles of the family and lack of a permanent home for the girl, and how the daughter was going to drop out of school.

She resolved, in consultation with the girl, that abortion was the best option.

“I went with her to Nyarugenge hospital and asked for an abortion. They advised me to write to the head doctor and state all my concerns to make a case for abortion,” the mother said.

On February 8 2019, she wrote the letter to the head doctor at the Muhima Hospital, who responded three days later, saying that this will not be possible.

“At the moment we have not received the ministerial order that spells out the conditions under which a doctor can legally carry out an abortion as stated in article 125 of the penal code,” the letter reads in part.

Claudine’s mother wrote to the Ministry of Health asking for the ministry to permit the hospital to carry out the abortion because she met all the requirements as stipulated in the law.

The ministry replied that there is no legal abortion that can be carried out before a ministerial order is published.

The mother and daughter resorted to court.

They filed a petition to Nyarugenge Intermediate Court which on March 14, 2019 pronounced that it had no jurisdiction to order for an abortion.

With the pregnancy already in its fourth month, an abortion is no longer tenable.

Living with consequences

Claudine sometimes goes to school even as the bulge in her abdomen has started to show.

“I know I no longer have a future. I will never fulfil my covenant with my mother, whom I had promised to study hard and one day get her out of poverty and an abusive relationship,” she said, sobbing.

Minister speaks out

During a news conference this week, Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye said that the ministerial order that will actualise the provisions on abortion under the penal code is about to be published.

“The law is clear but it needs an order by the Ministry of Health detailing in clear terms the exemptions under which abortion may be carried out. I think it will not take long before it is gazetted because it is supposed to be in the cabinet right now,” he said.