A 19-year-old woman in Swaziland was arrested by police in her hospital bed after being admitted for attempting an abortion.
The case highlights the difficulties women face in the kingdom where abortion is illegal in almost all circumstances. Performing, receiving or participating in an abortion carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The teenager had used drugs in an attempt to induce an abortion, according to a report in the Swazi Observer newspaper on Friday (23 March 2018). She has since appeared in court where sentencing was postponed.
Because abortions are illegal in Swaziland it is difficult to say accurately how many are performed in the kingdom. In October 2012 more than 1,000 women were treated for abortion-related complications at a single clinic in the Swaziland’s second city Manzini, according to the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), a family planning organization.
According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, abortion is prohibited in Swaziland except in cases of necessity but there is disagreement about what constitutes a case of necessity.
‘The majority position of commentators is that a case of necessity exists only when an abortion is performed to save the life of the pregnant woman. However, it is possible that a case of necessity need not be so serious and that an abortion could be performed in cases of serious threat to both physical and mental health, foetal defect and rape. There is no case law on this issue in Swaziland,’ the report stated.
The Swazi Constitution provides that abortion might be allowed on medical or therapeutic grounds, including where a doctor certifies that continued pregnancy will endanger the life or constitute a serious threat to the physical health of the woman; continued pregnancy will constitute a serious threat to the mental health of the woman; there is serious risk that the child will suffer from physical or mental defect of such a nature that the child will be irreparably seriously handicapped.
However, no law exists to put the constitutional provisions into effect.
The UN report stated there were no legal provisions dealing with the professional qualifications required to perform an abortion, the place where the procedure must be performed or the period during pregnancy when an abortion can be performed. There is evidence that illegal abortions take place frequently in Swaziland.
The UN stated, ‘Induced abortion is a particularly significant problem among teenage girls. Faced with the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy, many teenage girls resort to abortion to avoid expulsion from school. Unmarried teenage women are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies because of the barriers they face in obtaining contraceptives. For example, it is reported that health workers often require proof of the husband’s authorization before dispersing contraceptives, even though this is not a legal requirement.’
In November 2012 the IRIN news agency reported that 16 percent of all women deaths in the government hospital in Mbabane that year were the result of botched abortions. It said that this figure was only those cases that were reported, there were certainly other deaths unreported.
IRIN reported that in 2011 three Swazi nurses were arrested and given 15 years for assisting in terminations.
‘They were helping the poorest of the poor, women who are truly desperate and who cannot do what most Swazi women do who need an abortion. Most women just travel across the border to South Africa,’ Alicia Simelane, a Manzini healthcare worker and midwife, told IRIN.
‘Also, there are the scared little girls, the rape survivors and the survivors of incest who dare not talk about their experiences to anyone. Counselling hardly exists for such girls in Swaziland. Then there are the women who have seven children and a husband who refuses to wear a condom, and they cannot bear to have more children. These are desperate women, and they will go to anyone who they think will help them,’ she said.
In the absence of legal abortions, mothers are suspected of practising infanticide. Local media reports of new-borns found dead in isolated areas are commonplace.
In 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva recommended that Swaziland adopt laws allowing voluntary abortions.
WOMEN SILENCED ON ABORTIONS