CULTURAL ABORTION

Cultural abortion: The unspoken cruelty destroying girls' lives

She was warned that she couldn’t get pregnant before she is wed as it was a shame to her family and her taboo.

In Summary

• Eddah was “given” to a moran before she was circumcised.

• She was warned that she couldn’t get pregnant before she is wed as it was a shame to her family and her taboo.

Reproductive health has been a part of all African cultures since time immemorial.
Reproductive health has been a part of all African cultures since time immemorial.
Image: AL JAZEERA

Eddah looks much older than her actual age of 17. She is admitted at the Maralal Referral Hospital for the 17th time.

It is funny that her age and the number of times she has been admitted at the hospital due to miscarriages is the same. She does not seem to recognise this irony when I speak with her.

“I just want to have a child,” she tells me. Her voice so sad you can hear the melancholic backdrop if you listen close enough.

 

Eddah has been married for half her life. Throughout this time, she has been constantly trying to get pregnant for her husband. “He beats me every time I get the miscarriages. It is such a shame in my culture,” she adds tearfully.

 

There is much I can tell a semi-literate, highly cultural 17-year-old girl about pregnancy. But now does not seem like the time. Now, in this space and time, I am here to listen. And later tell her story to the world.

Reproductive health has been a part of all African cultures since time immemorial. Yet, we have not fully learnt how some of the harmful reproductive health cultural practices are affecting our communities.

Eddah was “given” to a moran before she was circumcised. From age six she started engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse. “In our culture, the moran has to build a manyatta in the girl’s home. This is the place where they spend time together when the moran is in need.

“I had not started menstruating at the time. No one even told me about pregnancies and abortions,” narrates Eddah.

She went on to have sexual relations with the moran for two years before she was circumcised. It was during circumcision that she learned a few things about pregnancy.

She was warned that she couldn’t get pregnant before she is wed as it was a shame to her family and her taboo. “I did not get married immediately after the circumcision. Some girls have to wait a bit to get husband,” she tells. During this time, Eddah had started her menses and soon she got pregnant for the moran.

 

Eddah told her elder sister that she might be pregnant in an attempt to get a confidant. Her sister, who had just been married off, told her she has to tell their mother. But Eddah was afraid. So she kept quiet. She hid the pregnancy.

They carried me into the bushes where I was covered in several blankets and asked to lie on a mattress. They then gave me some crushed herbs to drink. I was very scared. I did not know what was going on.
Eddah

“They only came to know about it when I was 2 months pregnant,” she adds. What they did next was tragic. Eddah’s mother called her neighbour, who was also the woman who circumcised Eddah and together, they locked her in one of the family’s manyattas.

They came back for her in the middle of the night.

 

As Eddah laid on her back on the ground, the women used a can full of sand to press and hit her baby bump. “All I remember is the first hit.

There were 10 women and the first one put the can on my belly and pressed down with her leg. I had not realised that some of the women had pinned me down so I could not move. I asked my mother to stop but I could not even see her face among the women,” she tells.

“People in this area rarely talk about how they do their cultural abortions. Much has been done about female genital cutting but there has been a laxity in other detrimental reproductive health practices that many cultures partake in,” adds Dr Louise, Eddah’s gynecologist.

Eddah was married off one month after the ordeal. “Her womb is severely damaged and it is possible that it is because of that. We have seen several young women and girls with the same condition here,” confirms Dr Louise.

With the recently announced court order that the country will refer to the 2012 Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion in Kenya when discussing the issue, it is still not clear where cultural practices that lead to abortions fall under.

The Standards and Guidelines highlight the importance of educating youth on reproductive health. However, youth like Eddah, who are not only marginalised economically, but also socially and politically are being left behind. It would seem that Kenya is still not yet at the level of discussing pro-life or pro-choice consequences of abortions.

We should start with the basics. The first step should be ensuring all girls of reproductive age know their health rights, understand how to lower risk of unwanted pregnancies and have access to quality reproductive health care when needed. This includes girls like Eddah, who live in hardship and whose cultures dictate their fate.

*Names might have been altered to protect the interviewees


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