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City of Banjul
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Sengalese girl, 10, raped, now pregnant with twins, denied abortion

“She is going to have to go through with the pregnancy,” said Fatou Kiné Camara, president of the Senegalese women lawyers’ association. “The best we can do is keep up pressure on the authorities to ensure the girl gets regular scans and free medical care.

“Senegal’s abortion law is one of the harshest and deadliest in Africa. A doctor or pharmacist found guilty of having a role in a termination faces being struck off. A woman found guilty of abortion can be jailed for up to 10 years.”

Forty women were held in custody in Senegal on charges linked to the crimes of abortion or infanticide in the first six months of last year, official figures show. According to estimates, hundreds of women die every year from botched illegal terminations.

“For a termination to be legal in Senegal, three doctors have to certify that the woman will die unless she aborts immediately. Poor people in Senegal are lucky if they see one doctor in their lifetime, let alone three,” Camara said.

“A single medical certificate costs 10,000 CFA francs ($20), which is prohibitive. We had a previous case of a raped nine-year-old who had to go through with her pregnancy. We paid for her caesarean but she died a few months after the baby was born, presumably because the physical trauma of childbirth was too great.”

The women lawyers’ association is lobbying MPs to align Senegal’s abortion legislation with the African charter on women’s rights, which the country ratified 10 years ago. Its provisions – legal medical abortion in cases of rape and incest, or where a woman’s physical or mental health is threatened – have never been added to the statute book.

“The greatest unfairness is that the poor are the victims of our archaic legislation,” said Camara, a law professor at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar. “Anyone with enough money can easily have an abortion at a private clinic. But if you are poor you are expected to go through the legal motions or risk your life in a backstreet clinic.”

Six years ago, the association opened a legal drop-in centre in Dakar to better deal with such issues. “We all work for free and we are open to everyone. But it is very clear that women’s and children’s rights are the ones that are most often ignored,” Camara said.

Since 2008, the women lawyers’ association has trained more than 1,000 parajuristes, or legal lay people, to improve the handling of such issues. 

                     By Alex Duval Smith in Dakar

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