Give sex abuse victims access to abortion, other services
The recent BBC expose on sexual violence in Kenya’s tea farms has sparked widespread outrage that demands deeper reflection.
While everyone is pushing for action against the sexual predators and big corporations involved, what solutions are available to the victims besides perpetrator accountability?
Some survivors have shared their stories of becoming pregnant from rape, some opting to terminate the pregnancies, while others have contracted HIV. For many, their search for employment opportunities made them vulnerable to sexual abuse.
The world needs to stand in solidarity with the survivors and demand accountability from the perpetrators. Moreover, there should be concerted effort to ensure that victims have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services, including safe abortion, post-abortion care, contraception and psychosocial support.
Many Kenyans fail to recognise the importance of comprehensive healthcare response for survivors of rape and defilement. Misinformation, stigma, and moralisation have hindered many women and girls from seeking timely medical help, leading to preventable deaths. Healthcare providers have also shied away from providing these lawful and lifesaving services.
The Constitution of Kenya guarantees every person the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Access to safe abortion is specifically guaranteed under Article 26. The Health Act of 2017 and the High Court recognise health to include the physical, mental, or social wellbeing of a person, placing the primary responsibility on healthcare providers to offer their patients the best care in line with their skills.
Section 35(3) of the Sexual Offences Act requires the Health minister to prescribe circumstances under which a victim of a sexual offence may access treatment in any public hospital or institution. In 2009, the Ministry of Health issued the National Guidelines on the Management of Sexual Violence in Kenya, 2nd Edition, 2009. The guidelines provide that survivors of sexual violence who present with a pregnancy as a consequence of rape should be informed that termination of pregnancy may be allowed.
Despite the above provisions in law, various groups have used varying moral and religious arguments to oppose access to comprehensive abortion care. Seeking abortion care outside the regulated medical system could expose women to death or life-threatening injuries or legal prosecution.
While we applaud the efforts by the Director of Public Prosecutions in ordering the Inspector-General of Police to conduct speedy investigations, we also call upon the Health ministry and county governments to deploy all healthcare remedies available to these survivors without limitation.
Mr Onyango is an Associate Director, Legal Strategies for Africa, Ms Mutiso is Legal Advisor for Africa and Mr Thondu is Global Legal Fellow at Center for Reproductive Rights