Jailed for committing abortion, 367 Rwandan women pardoned ahead of amendment of laws

Ismail Akwei April 04, 2019
Stock photo on abortion

Rwanda is yet to decriminalize abortion as thousands of women have been convicted and jailed for the offence of abortion, complicity in abortion and infanticide. Prior to the assent of the new penal code revised last year, President Paul Kagame has pardoned 367 women who were jailed in connection with abortion.

This was announced in a statement after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday saying the president exercised his “prerogative of mercy” pursuant to the powers conferred upon him by the laws.

However, it is estimated that 7,300 women were in prison over abortion, cites a 2015 study conducted by local NGO the Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD).

The number does not include accomplices, reports local media The Chronicles which added that the NGO found that nearly all the victims were below the age of 25 years.

Jailed for committing abortion, 367 Rwandan women pardoned ahead of amendment of laws
Generic misoprostol, and a branded Cytotec (Michael Stravato/The New York Times)

The amended law did not entirely decriminalize the practice but only allowed abortions in some circumstances including cases of rape, forced marriage, incest, or instances where the pregnancy poses health risks to the mother or unborn child, reports The New Times.

The announcement of the release of the 367 women was well received by civil society organisations and NGOs who hailed the president for taking necessary steps to end the vulnerability of women and girls who are forced to undergo unsafe abortions.

“This is a dream come true. Thanks HE .@PaulKagame we still hope for a Rwanda where abortion isnt a crime but a healthcare service accessible by all to reduce preventable maternal mortality& ensure that women can truly realise their rights including bodily autonomy and integrity [sic],” tweeted social justice campaigner Chantal Umuhoza.

Restrictive abortion laws have become a bane in many African countries. Many women in Kenya are denied access to safe abortion services which is condemning them to death. This was the focus of a documentary by Kagendo Limiri in 2018.

According to the UNICEF, global maternal mortality ratio declined by 44 per cent between 1990 to 2015 but it remains unacceptably high in sub-Saharan Africa. The region accounted for 62% (179 000) of global maternity-related deaths in 2013. One of the major complications that account for nearly 75% of all maternal deaths is unsafe abortions (WHO).

The BBC found in 2018 that Ghana and Nigeria are the two countries with the highest search interest in Misoprostol and its sister, Mifeprostone, which are usually combined to medically induce a miscarriage. Misoprostol can also go by brand names like Cytotec.

Jailed for committing abortion, 367 Rwandan women pardoned ahead of amendment of laws

Ghana’s abortion laws are more relaxed but those of Nigeria are stricter as
abortion in the country is only legal when performed to save a woman’s life.

The World Health Organisation says about 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year. This accounts for 45% of all abortions.

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: May 6, 2020


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