Zim Abortion Law Drives Girls Into Early Marriages

ZIMBABWE’S current Termination of Pregnancy Act which criminalises abortion, opens room for uncontrolled early child marriages, a top legal expert has said.

By Michael Gwarisa

The Termination of Pregnancy Act (ToP) 1977 only permits abortion if the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the unborn child or the mother or if the pregnancy is as a result of incest or rape. According to the law, termination of pregnancy cannot happen anywhere else besides a designated institution in this case a public hospital and at least two medical practitioners must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the pregnancy indeed warrants a termination

Speaking at the just ended National  Termination of Pregnancy roundtable meeting that was hosted by Katswe Sisterhood and Right Here Right Now Zimbabwe (RHRN),  Public Prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office, Kudzai Chigwedere said controlling early marriages could be a challenge in Zimbabwe considering that the law bars girls from terminating pregnancies hence they resort to eloping or marriage as a better alternative.

We also have cases of child marriages, I am of the view that the act indirectly promotes child marriages in the sense that while we are saying a girl who is a victim of sexual intercourse cannot terminate pregnancy, are we not then saying the girl should go stay with the person responsible for the pregnancy.

“What happens is we manage or maybe we prosecute  such cases and at times maybe  we give a non-custodial sentence and the next time we try to follow-up we hear they are already staying together, why, because there is this pregnancy and that connection will last for life,” she said.

A Non-Custodial sentence refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term, such as a fine or a restriction order.

Chigwedere added that there is conflict of laws in the sense that the constitution affirms the need to protect the interest of the child and fails to address the rights to accessing safe and legal abortion which result in girls and women bringing up children under terrible circumstances.

“In practice, if someone has sexual intercourse with a young person, we can have him incarcerated for up to 10 years, yet there is no provision for the termination of the pregnancy. In a way, we end up having conflict of laws

“We also face another challenge that the law expects the victim to keep the pregnancy yet if you look at the survivors of the sexual offense, they are only but children aged below 16 years and the next question is, is that in the interest of the child?”

She also said most survivors present late for termination of pregnancies which also makes it difficult for them to access legal assistance. She however added that in Zimbabwe, prosecutions for illegal abortions were not very rampart as many cases access services from backyard surgeries.

According to the ToP, no person may terminate a pregnancy otherwise than in accordance with this Act. (2) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offense and liable to a fine not exceeding level ten or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Health parliamentary portfolio committee chair, Hon Ruth Labode said abortion in Zimbabwe had become a class issue and young girls and women from both the lower and upper classes of society were accessing abortions services though under different environments.

“You find that those who have money and the well to do take their girls to private and safe abortion facilities while those from poor backgrounds access abortion services under unhealthy and dangerous environments,” said Dr Labode.

A legal expert from Rwanda and executive director for Great Lakes Initiative for Human Rights and Development (GLIHD) Tom Mulisa said in his country several girls particularly from poor backgrounds were serving jail terms for illegal abortions.

 

 

 

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