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» 29.11.2005 - Malawi reviews marriage, divorce laws
» 03.05.2005 - Malawi gender activists told not to fight men

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Gender - Women | Health

Illegal abortions with alarming consequences in Malawi

Misanet / The Chronicle, 24 January - Pale-faced, weak and visibly tired, Easter sits in a chair outside her elder sister's house. It has been less than four days since she was discharged from hospital, where she had surgery to remove her uterus (hysterectomy), which had become infected when she tried to remove her pregnancy.

Abortions are illegal according to the penal code in Malawi, an inheritance from the British colonial period. As in other countries where abortion is outlawed, women in Malawi use alternative methods to en an unwanted pregnancy, mostly with alarming consequences.

Although Easter is well on her way to recovery, the effort of even lifting her cup of tea is shown by the strain on her face and the sweat that breaks out on her brow. Easter is nevertheless one of the lucky young girls who has survived an abortion that went wrong.

At seventeen years, and in her last year at secondary school, she had her whole life to look forward to. An unplanned pregnancy from an older married man changed all that and brought her to the brink of death.

When Easter informed her lover of the pregnancy, he became very concerned about her future and decided that it was "in her best interest" to have an abortion and continue her education.

- He said it was important that I should continue with my school in order for me to be an educated wife when we get married, Easter told 'The Chronicle. "He said we should be careful that no one suspects that I was pregnant and that he would take care of everything for me."

Informing her sister that she was going to spend the weekend with her friend, she left with her lover.

Easter will not tell anyone where she went, nor who she was with. All she says is that she was given some things to insert into her vagina and told to go home. "I felt nothing for about a day, then I started having period pains but no period came. On Monday, I was in very severe pain and started bleeding. I knew there was something very wrong because I was bleeding a lot and feeling very sick. I was also vomiting and had a high fever."

- Easter was rushed to hospital that night, her sister says adding. "We were sure that she would not recover because of the state she was in. The doctor told us that he would have to operate as she had such a bad infection. That is why her uterus was removed in order to save her life."

When asked if Easter did not say what happened or who the boyfriend was, all the sister can say is: "Easter just told us that she was pregnant and wanted to remove it. We still do not know the man or who gave her the medicine. Apart from all this, we are just grateful that she is alive and that she is wiser about her life and future. It is not often one is given a second chance, I pray that she is wiser now."

Asked what she plans to do about her future, Easter says: "I want to get better so that I can return to school. I have matured since what happened and I will never believe what men say again. I have not seen my boyfriend since I became sick and my family have paid all the hospital bills. One thing he said which was true is that I have to continue my education in order to have a better future, which I will do."

Easter is indeed a very luck young lady to have suffered only the loss of the possibility of ever having her own children. Others have not been so fortunate and have lost their lives in trying to remove unwanted pregnancies.

Apart from this, abortions that have gone wrong result in patients receiving post abortion treatment from hospitals and other Reproductive Health Providers, which put more pressure on already financially strapped facilities,

The situation with Easter is not unique in any way in today's Malawi. The fact is that abortions are being carried out by people who are not medical doctors and continue to put many women's lives at risk.

Young women and girls continue to fall pregnant because of many reasons. Rape, coercion, lack of money are just a few reasons that sex is entered into. Unwanted and unplanned pregnancies - which they terminate at the risk of developing other health problems or dying - are a reality in Malawi.

Of great concern is also the fact that people are engaging in sex, which puts them and the partner at risk of contracting HIV, the virus that leads to a person having AIDS.

Abortion in Malawi is an offence and punishable by imprisonment. According to the Penal Code 149 through to 152, abortion is a felony which carries a maximum prison sentence of up to fourteen years.

In November 1997, the government of Malawi developed a plan of action for the empowerment of women as a follow-up-action to the Fourth World Conference of Women, which was held in Beijing in September 1995.

One of the activities in the 1997-2002 plan of action was to "review and repeal the abortion laws to provide women their reproductive health rights." The responsible bodies for the plan of action were the Ministry of Health, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), National Family Welfare Council of Malawi and the Ministry of Women, Youth and Community Services.

According to information sourced to 'The Chronicle' from Malawi's Law Commission's office, there are consultations being carried out on the review of the Penal Code under which the laws on abortions come. Consultations had revealed that although abortions are against the law, the practice was still taking place.

The Malawian Ministry of Health has now requested that a report be compiled because numerous women and young girls who seek an abortion have been subjected to many different and dangerous methods of terminating pregnancies which have resulted in some of them losing their lives.

NGOs and other stakeholders are also looking into the law that will help safeguard the security of women and help empower them with regards to their sexual and reproductive health rights.

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