Saturday, 25 July 2015

What’s in the Proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill?

In June, 2013, the Malawi government constituted a Special Law Commission to review the country’s abortion law.  It was indicated that this was due to a 2009 study that revealed that 17 percent of all maternal deaths were as a result of abortion complications due to unsafe means which expectant women were using.  

It is against this background that this entry shares with you what the Special Law Commission on the Review of the Abortion Law has finally come up with and their recommendations on the abortion law.  We all waited for what the commission will say about our termination of pregnancy law and now it is time to hear it. 

Before delving into the issues, let us take a short diversion and bear in mind that the issue of abortion or termination of pregnancy - as some people always prefer to call it (though in essence it is the same thing) has caused debates. The debates have always been value laden. Emotions rather than reason guided the debates so much that people have always ended up attacking each other's personalities and circumstances ignoring the critical issue at hand. As is always the case in such scenarios; nothing prolific has ever come out of such hullabaloos.  

As earlier indicated, this entry is not judging or taking sides in this ‘chronic’ debate but rather, the aim is to share with you the essence of the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill which is to be submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs. As the country’s democratic procedures dictate, the next step is that the cabinet will deliberate and then it ‘may’ be tabled in parliament. 

Getting back to the real business; on 17 July, 2015, the Malawi Law Commission stated that the country’s law on abortion (termination of pregnancy) has been liberalized. This has been achieved after bringing in an element of flexibility on the restrictions so that under certain circumstances, abortion/termination of pregnancy should be allowed. Thus, in the recommendations, the termination of pregnancy is to be allowed based on four justifiable instances. According to the recommendations of the commission there should be four justifiable conditions where termination of pregnancy should be permissible;   

Firstly, the proposition states that abortion can be procured where the continued pregnancy will endanger the life of a pregnant woman. However, it is indicated that this will require recommendation from a certified health service provider who may perform a termination of pregnancy where he or she forms an opinion in good faith.

Secondly, the commission recommends that abortion can be procured where termination is necessary to prevent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. Again, a certified health service provider should recommend or perform an abortion where he or she forms an opinion, on reasonable grounds.
On the third ground, the commission recommended that abortion can be procured when there is a severe malformation of the foetus which will affect its viability or compatibility with life. An opinion of a certified health service provider is required on this ground as well. 

The fourth and last ground for abortion is where the pregnancy is as a result of rape, defilement or incest. The Chairperson of the Special Law Commission on the Review of the Abortion Law, High Court Judge Esme Chombo stated that this fourth ground covers concerns regarding pregnancy of minors who are not mature enough for child bearing and also covers the increasing cases of incest especially where the victims are minors. 

Currently, abortion is illegal in Malawi and the offence carries a three to 14 years sentence. However, the proposed bill may lead into decriminalization of abortion based on the suggested four conditions.  A quick search indicates that many young girls have obstetric fistula and there are a lot of single mothers and adolescent girls who are failing to take care of their children who were born as a result of rape, defilement or incest.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Ntcheu Drop in Centre Enhancing Young People’s Reproductive Health through ICT: A Case of 16 Year- Old Cosmas

                                                            Written by: Mc Carthy Samalani

Young people who live within the vicinity of YONECO’s Drop in Centre in Ntcheu district are now in smiles for having Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH &R) information at their fingertips.

16 year old Cosmas Malipa hails from Zakutchire in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kwataine in the district. He visits Ntcheu Youth Drop in Centre at least three times a week. Among other things, Cosmas searches for SRH & R information using the free internet service that is available at the centre. He further uses the WhatsApp to have some SRH conversations with his fellow young people or engaging the group’s moderators. The SRH & R WhatApp forum is a YONECO’s initiative and the group is called the Youth Breeze.

Cosmas attested that since he started visiting and attending ICT dialogue sessions at the Model Youth Drop in Centre, his life has been greatly transformed. He revealed that a year ago when he was in standard seven of his primary school studies, he had two sexual partners. Cosmas stated that he has now realized, through Youth Breeze discussions and information he gets on reliable internet sites, that he was exposing himself to the risk of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV and he added that he could have also impregnated someone and consequently affect his education.  

Cosmas has now made up his mind to focus on education and vowed that he will never get into a sexual relationship until he finishes his education. He further added that he sat for 2015 Primary School leaving Certificate Examinations and he is optimistic that he will be selected to secondary school.

 “Thanks to YONECO for making SRH & R information available to young people like me and I never thought that one day I would be able to use a computer.  Computer literacy is perceived to be for the rich and those who live in urban areas but here I am today; a simple, common young person endowed with computer skills and knowledge that is enabling me to get important information,” Said Cosmas. 

With support from Unicef, Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) through its office in Ntcheu district established a model youth drop in centre in October, 2014. Among other activities, the centre conducts SRH and R dialogue sessions with young people using face to face as well as other ICT tools like WhatsApp.
YONECO’s Ntcheu district office data indicates that on average, 40 young people attend various activities at the centre every day.