KIGALI, RWANDA – Charlotte Mukamabano, a banana vendor in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, says she disapproves of a new law legalizing abortion in certain instances.
“I am totally against this law,” Mukamabano says.
In the revised Penal Code of Rwanda, Article 165 decriminalizes abortion when the pregnancy is a result of rape, forced marriage or sexual intercourse with a close family relative. It also decriminalizes abortion when the pregnancy jeopardizes the health of the unborn baby or the mother.
But Mukamabano says this contradicts her beliefs.
“God does not allow this,” she says. “This is a sin. It may even cause them death. This is a taboo.”
She says that women should take more responsibility for their sexual activity and be more respectful of divine will.
“When you become pregnant, it means you have selected it,” she says. “And it is a gift from God, so to abort is against God’s will.”
Government officials say changes in society required an updated abortion law, with activists insisting that it will reduce the number of abandoned children and clandestine abortions. But the article has met opposition in the community stemming from religious beliefs and lack of awareness about the new law’s stipulations. Government officials and activists promote education surrounding the new law so that citizens understand it and can use it or demand its revision.
An estimated 60,000 abortions occurred in 2009 in Rwanda, with about one in 40 women ages 15 to 44 seeking an abortion, according to a study conducted by the National University of Rwanda’s School of Public Health and the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that works to advance reproductive health. The study found that almost all of these abortions were clandestine procedures that were highly likely to be unsafe.
Under the previous penal code, abortion was illegal in Rwanda except in cases of medical emergency. Under the revised penal code published in June 2012, Article 165 decriminalized abortion under four circumstances.
The government changed the law because the previous one was outdated, says Jacqueline Bakamurere, assistant attorney general in charge of legal aid and human rights for the Ministry of Justice.
“It was dated 1977,” she says. “And, therefore, it was not matching to the current situation in Rwanda.”
Just as the government added new articles regulating cybercrimes after the Internet launched in Rwanda, it must keep up with other changes, she says.
“It is a kind of modernizing it accordingly to the development of the country,” she says.
The revised penal code also responds to the number of unwanted children born to unprepared mothers, says Epimack Kwokwo, executive secretary of the Human Rights League of the Great Lakes Region, an organization that encourages cooperation to address common human rights challenges. Mothers may abandon or neglect these children, who face problems ranging from malnutrition to homelessness.
“This law will help to save those births who were facing difficulties because they were born in an unwanted condition,” Kwokwo says.
The revised law also aims to reduce