Cameroon joins the rest of the world to mark the International Safe Abortion Day, an annual day to support action for safe abortion instituted in Latin American in 1990 and around the world in 2011. This year the call is for governments to remove laws and policies restricting access to safe abortion.
The International Safe Abortion Day celebrated this September 28, gives women the world over the right to ‘safe abortion’.
Safe abortion is the termination of pregnancy before 28 weeks of gestation under adequate conditions by qualified personnel and under good hygienic conditions.
But for Catherine, 20, this right was denied with the cumbersome procedure of obtaining legal abortion in Cameroon.
Raped as she ran for her life in Fontem-Southwest region of Cameroon, within the context of the Anglophone crisis, Catherine would have loved to have a legal abortion.
She abandoned the process long procedure and is now a mother of baby boy from the rape incident.
Tears rolling down her cheeks, dripping on the innocent baby, still wishing to go back to school, she asks, “what will she do with the baby”.
Rape in section 339 of the penal code is one of the cases where safe abortion is authorized in Cameroon, besides threats to the life of a mother.
Why is safe abortion chained in Cameroon?
Stakeholders agree that to obtain this legal service in Cameroon is a long and cumbersome process which discourages victims of rape.
Dr Filbert Eko Eko, Reproductive health expert, a member of the Society of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of Cameroon, SOGOC, laments that the long and cumbersome procedure encourages back street abortion as victims seek the easy way from unqualified doctors.
Through out the world, each year, an estimated 25 million unsafe abortions occur, which is 45% of all abortions.
At least 22,800 people die each year from complications of unsafe abortion.
Maternal deaths in Cameroon was pegged at 732 per 100,000 live births in 2002. Though with a 40 percent reduction to 406 deaths per 100,000 live births, Cameroon is yet to attained the desired 70 deaths per 100,000 live births health experts say.
Statistics from SOGOC indicate that 30% of maternal deaths in Cameroon are linked to unsafe abortions. Eko, following the right procedure, advises, “A girl who is raped should go immediately to a hospital without changing her dress or taking a bath for proper care”.
The survivor will then get medication that can prevent pregnancy and other infections such as HIV, Hepatitis and this must be within 72 hours it may be late if they drag on.
But, he regrets that the healthcare provider is not the sole person responsible to diagnose rape. The health care provider presents the medical findings and elaborates a medico legal certificate.
Barrister Joyce Chefu that , “legal abortion is complicated, long and cumbersome as the court needs to establish that a survivor was raped and a court judgment delivered to attest rape. It is the judgment which authorizes the medical professional to carry out an abortion”.
“A normal criminal day is long, cases are adjourned within a month and most cases not heard. A normal file can take three months to have a decision rendered in a local setting and more where the are many litigations but in town it may take six months”, Chefu says.
After hospital, the survivor should lodge a complaint with the police. If known , a convocation is sent to the suspect, investigations are carried out with evidence which is the medical certificate, and the case sent to court.
“It is a procedure and which we are obliged to follow given that everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty”, Chefu adds.
Though the penal code in article 339 talks about serving the life of a mother, it does not cover the fact that the life of the baby can also be in danger, she regrets.
In Cameroon international treaties and conventions ratified have a higher authority over national laws, article 14 sub section c of the Maputo protocol provides the right to choose any method of contraception, but this is contradictory with national laws.
She admires countries where rape cases are treated as emergency, saying, “if we and treat rape as emergency and make the law on rape harder, this will help”.
The legal expert suggests that policy makers need to help the law, to better people’s lives.
In order to break the chain around safe abortion in Cameroon, “SOGOC, is working on establishing a referral pathway for the management of pregnancies emanating from rape and incest with different stakeholders; the Ministry of Justice, the police, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family among others”, Eko stated
SOGOC is running an Advocacy for Comprehensive Abortion Care, ACAC and mentoring for material and reproductive health whose goal is to provide an enabling environment for increased safe abortion services within the ambits of the Cameroon law in a bid to reduce maternal deaths related to unsafe abortions.
Eko advises that every third category hospital should have an adolescent clinic which is very vital for young people to get information on reproductive and sexual health rights and where they can exposed their problems to their peers.
For now what exists in most hospitals are family planning units not responding to the specific need of youths who are the most exposed to unsafe abortions.