The risk of maternal mortality is highest for adolescent girls under 15 years old and complications in pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. Today, September 28 is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. At the very same time, Heads of States have just passed what is said to be the most ambitious development agenda. Well, I would like appeal to governments to raise the bar for women and girls when it comes to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
I am sure you will to, once you hear Wanjiku’s story:
Wanjiku became pregnant at age 14 after a man from her village coerced her into sex. With no access to safe abortion, she turned to a “quack” to end her pregnancy—and now her health is in danger. She now relies on dialysis to stay alive. This is beyond what her family can afford. Wanjiku had to drop out of school after being diagnosed with a kidney disease and is likely to suffer health complications for the rest of her life.
Do you think Wanjiku’s fate would have been avoided? Well, the answer is a resounding YES! Below, are some things our governments need to do about it:
- According to WHO 2015 an estimated 225 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for contraceptives, either because the services are unavailable, unaffordable or cannot be accessed, or because of social barriers such as the need for parental or spousal consent. Studies have shown that most adolescents will avoid seeking services when confidentiality is not guaranteed and when parental consent is required. In the case of child brides, spousal consent remains one of the hindrances in the uptake of sexual and reproductive health services.
- Closely related to the issue of access to services, is that is important to remove the legal and policy barriers that prevent women and girls from accessing facilities, goods and services that are available, acceptable and of good quality. Contrary to popular belief, the more restrictive a country abortions laws are the higher the cases of unsafe abortion. In Wanjiku’s case, she and many other young women around the world have suffered great injustice in the hands of “quacks” due to inadequate legal framework governing service provision that seeks to reduce unsafe abortion.
- Finally, is the importance of access to information and education relating to sexuality and sexual health. Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is essential to enable adolescents protect their health and make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives. These should include accurate and evidence-based information on abortion including access to safe and legal abortion Withholding from young people essential sexual and reproductive health information can not only result in detrimental health consequences but it is also a violation of their right to information. In the case of Wanjiku, CSE would have boosted her knowledge on consent, violence against women/girls, emergency contraception, comprehensive abortion care which includes post abortion care etc
As the dust settles in New York after a whirlwind of activities at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the big task ahead remains the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Governments should ensure that universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, including adolescents, is included as a core strategy in broader efforts to address health in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by putting in place laws that aim to support and promote sexual and reproductive health including access to safe and legal abortion. These laws should embody principles such as the rights to non-discrimination, to privacy and confidentiality, to be free from violence and coercion, as well as ensure that the rights to education, information and access to health services – are respected, protected and fulfilled.
Join the campaign to #KeepWanjikuSafe by signing the petition.
Cover Photo Credit: Marie Stopes International, Flickr Creative Commons