Fifteen-year-old Uwamahoro (not real name) has been living at Marembo Centre in Kigali for two years. The centre is a non-governmental organisation which supports and rehabilitates young people who have been orphaned, neglected or abused.
Uwamahoro was raped by a stranger in 2013 and she ended up pregnant. Uwamahoro contemplated carrying out an abortion, but her fear that abortion is illegal forced her to give up on the idea.
Although the law allows any woman who has become pregnant as a result of rape to carry out safe abortion, some of the provisions of the law under the penal code make it hard for victims of rape to seek legal abortion services.
Like Uwamahoro, Uwizeye (not real name) was sexually abused and impregnated by her biological father; the 18-year-old is struggling with the ordeal of raising a child who was fathered by her own biological father.
Like any other young girl, she had hopes for a bright future but this was all cut short by the misfortune that befell her.
Unlike Uwamahoro who didn’t know about the law on abortion, Uwizeye knew about the abortion law but her challenge was exposing her secrets to the public.
“I would worsen things in the name of going for legal abortion, I wouldn’t go through the shame of explaining such details about my father in court. It’s a secret any woman would want to keep for life,” she explains before adding, “I also don’t know what will happen to my child when he grows up and gets to know that he is my brother and son at the same time.”
Both Uwamahoro and Uwizeye’s lives would have been different if they got a chance to access legal abortion services.
Critics say that while this law is good, it has also fuelled the problem of illegal abortions because of the conditions one has to fulfill in order to get safe abortion services.
Robert Mugabe, a Kigali based lawyer says that the exemption from criminal liability is permitted only if the woman who seeks abortion submits to the doctor an order issued by a competent court. Other cases where the law allows abortion is if the pregnancy is as a result of forced marriage or incest. A woman is also legally allowed to have an abortion if the continuation of a pregnancy seriously jeopardizes the health of the unborn baby or that of the mother.
Nicolette Nsabimana the founder and director of Centre Marembo says that she wouldn’t advocate for abortion but in certain circumstances like above, it should be allowed but with some level of privacy for the victim.
“If such cases like incest or rape occur, I think girls should be able to easily access abortion services. Services should be made flexible; if possible the centres should be given authority to offer those services since we know these victims and know how to deal with them,” Nsabimana says.
Jean d’Amour Bizimana, the legal advisor at the Ministry of Gender and Family promotion says that although to access legal abortion services is a long process, it’s for the good of the beneficiaries.
“It’s a long process but it was put in place to prevent abuse, for example rape is a crime, so through that process you get evidence about the crime. If they make it open, one can wake up in the morning after realizing they are pregnant and falsely claim they were raped,” Bizimana explains.
According to him the current law on abortion should stay because it was put in place after wide consultations and debates.
Mugabe explains that factors such as the religious influence against abortion, abortion related stigma and cultural norms also force the victims to keep such cases under the wraps.
This hinders implementation of the law forcing many young people to resort to illegal abortions which in many cases is done using crude methods.
“There is need to generate more awareness about the exemptions provided and to increase collaboration for all parties involved in the process such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice and Police among others,” Mugabe said
Before 2012, abortion was illegal in Rwanda, and those who terminated pregnancies illegally were punished.
A study conducted in 2012 by Health Development Initiative (HDI) estimated that as of 2009, 14 abortions occurred per 100 live births.
In 2009, Health Development Initiative embarked on a campaign advocating for the decriminalization of abortion so that it ceases to be a barrier to women’s health.
Leaders of the advocacy campaign succeeded in persuading decision-makers to revise the penal code on abortion.
Theresphore Nzabazimana the Programmes Director, HDI says that in Africa, 60 percent of unsafe abortions are among girls aged twenty five and younger.
He says that nearly 67,000 women, mostly the poor women from developing countries die every year from unsafe abortion, and most of them are girls.
He says that the fact that induced abortion is illegal doesn’t stop girls from aborting.
“As of 2009, unintended pregnancies were 47 percent and an estimated 22 percent of those pregnancies ended up in induced abortions. Two thirds of women who die having abortions are between the age of fifteen and thirty,” he says.
However, 2644 cases were referred for pregnancy termination between July 2012 to June 2014 and most cases were due to medical conditions, fetal impairment, and health of a mother, there was only one case of a pregnancy terminated due to pregnancy after rape where the victim had a court order.
Since the majority of sexual violence cases are against minors and most cases of abortions involve those under the age of 25, this indicates that most of these girls go for unsafe abortion which exposes them to life threatening risks including death.
Last month, Health Development Initiative organised a workshop for journalists on access to information on legal abortion services with the objective of making the public especially women and girls aware of the law on abortion.
I say: What can be done to expedite the process of legal abortions?
Hervé Kimenyi, Comedian
How is someone expected to prove that they were abused? The legal process itself would take months. In the meantime, the baby is growing. This whole debate should be about women’s choices. There are no half measures when it comes to that. It’s not about abortion. It’s about the right for a woman to make decisions about her body and sexuality the way she sees fit.
Davis Mugisha, Accountant
It’s hard to prove rape and abuse especially for girls that are raped by their fathers. Culturally, people fear the stigma. The best approach would be to first sensitize people about being open with information and the rest will follow.
Maliza Abwooli, Marketing Consultant
I know people who get raped and out of fear of stigma, they don’t say a word. Months down the road they discover they’re pregnant. How does this law help such a person? I think people should be given educative information such that they make an informed decision.
Carrying a baby of a relative, that would be a disgrace not only to me but to my family and society. I don’t support abortion at all, since I consider it a terrible act to an innocent human being. However, in such incidences where someone’s relative gets one pregnant; you’re left with no other choice than to abort as long as it’s legally permitted.
It would not only be embarrassing to the person pregnant but also as Rwandans, we all know that for instance, carrying a relative’s baby is against our culture. Eventually, it’s the combination of all such unbearable circumstance that makes abortion the only resort to what I call a misfortune. As long as that abortion is backed up legally.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba