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The age of consent in accessing abortion in Kenya

By Mical Imbukwa
In 2018, heartbreaking images of a nine-year-old girl nursing her newborn stirred up mixed emotions online. Shockingly, the alleged perpetrator was reported to be her own father.

Fast forward to 2020, another nine-year-old girl from Murang’a County was impregnated.

Hon Sabina Chege, the Murang’a women’s representative at the time, confirmed that this young girl hailed from Ithanga, lower Gatanga, an area marked by a disturbingly high number of underage pregnancies.

The distressing reality that these young girls were compelled to carry their pregnancies to term sheds light on the shortcomings of Kenya’s abortion laws. According to these laws, abortion is illegal and only permitted when performed by a trained medical professional or when the life or health of the mother is at risk. 

The legal age for making decisions on all matters, including medical ones like abortion, is 18 years. It seems illogical and heart-wrenching to subject a nine-year-old, or any teenager who did not consent to sex, to carry a pregnancy to term.

The restrictions put on the guidelines for young people seeking to terminate pregnancy create uncertainty. They raise questions about the ability to make decisions for oneself, leaving both healthcare providers and young people uncertain about the right course of action, especially if they are under 18.

Many young people, due to judgment, lack of awareness about where to seek help, and fear of legal consequences, resort to unsafe procedures, feeling as though they have no other choice. This is a grave concern that needs urgent attention and compassion.

To improve the situation for everyone in Kenya, especially young people, a few crucial steps need to be taken. Firstly, the age of consent should be revised downwards.

Recognizing that many young people are victims of circumstances such as rape and defilement is essential for creating more compassionate and effective laws. 

Education plays a pivotal role as well. Implementing programs that teach young people about their bodies, contraception, consent, and their rights regarding abortion is imperative. When young folks are well-informed, they can make better decisions and reduce the likelihood of unplanned pregnancies.

By adopting a more understanding approach, Kenya can pave the way for a healthcare system that supports and respects the rights of everyone, regardless of age, who needs abortion services. 

In case you need help or more information about Post-abortion care and pregnancy crisis counselling, reach out to Marie Stopes Kenya or Reproductive Health Network Kenya. Let’s work together to ensure a safer and more compassionate future for young individuals facing challenging circumstances.

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