DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Strict abortion laws in Senegal are forcing women to seek clandestine abortions and as a last resort kill their own infants, according to a new report by human rights groups.
Backstreet abortions and infanticide, a consequence of the West African nation’s abortion legislation, account for 38 percent of detention cases among women in Senegal, the report said.
Unmarried pregnant girls are ostracised and sometimes take drastic measures, said Amy Sakho, who runs a drop-in centre for women for the Senegalese Association of Women Jurists (AJS).
“They leave the infants out in the middle of the forest to starve to death or get eaten by wild animals,” Sakho said. “Others strangle them or throw them in the septic tank.”
The study is based on a research by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and three other rights groups carried out in early November in three of Senegal’s biggest cities, Ziguinchor, Thies and Dakar.
Senegal’s legislation on abortion is amongst the most draconian in Africa, according to a survey of laws by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Only under life threatening circumstances may a woman have an abortion and women who terminate their pregnancies and the health workers who assist them face jail terms.
For a woman to be granted a legal abortion, she has to obtain the opinion of three doctors that her life is at risk, often at great expense and involving a lengthy procedure. Scarcely any legal terminations are carried out.
In one reported case, a 10-year-old girl, pregnant with twins as a result of rape, was forced to continue with the pregnancy despite risks to her health, according to AJS, which lobbied on the girl’s behalf.
Women seek out backstreet abortions, risking their lives at the hands of doctors who may not be qualified or have the necessary equipment. Eight to 13 percent of maternal deaths in Senegal are the result of clandestine abortions, said the study.
The rights groups accused Senegal’s government of violations of women’s reproductive rights under international law in their report “I do not want this child, I want to go to school”.
The Maputo Protocol on the rights of women in Africa, ratified by Senegal in 2005, requires states to guarantee the right to abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, danger to the mental and physical health mother or the life of the mother or foetus.
The rights groups have drafted a law to allow Senegal to fulfil its obligations under the protocol: “Our organisations urge the Senegalese government to present the draft law on abortion in the National Assembly as soon as possible,” said Fanta Doumbia, spokesperson for FIDH.
Reporting by Misha Hussain; Editing by Ros Russell