Why does Malawi cling to outdated colonial laws?

Sad News! For every 100,000 women who are pregnant, 349 end up dying due to pregnancy-related causes. Some die due to infections, and others due to bleeding when giving birth or soon after giving birth. Some die due to obstructed labour, yet others pass away as they attempt to terminate their unintended pregnancies.

The talk around maternal deaths or maternal deaths is about women and girls who die due to pregnancy-related causes. In other words, for every 100,000 live births, the country registers 349 deaths of women.
And Malawi registers over 800,000 pregnancies every year. The figure translates to deaths of 7 or 8 women every day because of pregnancy-related causes.

Strangely, news of 7 or 8 people dying due to COVID-19 scare people and attract people's attention, yet the death of 8 daily does not. Among those who do not care are some Members of Parliament who want women to continue dying.

How is Malawi addressing the major causes of maternal mortality?

Cause

Solution/Proposed Solution

Haemorrages

  • Implementation of a policy that all women should deliver in health facilities
  • Ban of Traditional Birth Attendants  (Previously women were dying because TBAs had no expertise and medication to stop bleeding during delivery)

Infections

  • Provision of various medications so that women deliver without problems. An example of this is provision of ARVs to HIV positive pregnant women to prevent opportunistic infections and enable them deliver babies who are HIV negative

Eclampsia & obstructed labour

  • Implementation of a policy that all women should deliver in hospitals so that qualified doctors and health personnel are able to treat such complications
  • Enactment of laws that stipulate that only those who are aged over 18 and above should enter marriage

Unsafe Abortions

  • Drafting of Termination of Pregnancy Bill by Law Commission so that women and girls should access safe abortion services in health facilities. (The problem is that MPs are delaying with some resisting the enactment of this law which would assist in saving lives of many women and girls who die due to unsafe abortions)
  • Provision of family planning services (contraceptives). The challenge is that many women and girls especially in rural areas do not manage to access these commodities as a result unintended pregnancies that end in unsafe abortions are very rampant. Thyolo district alone, for example, has registered 4, 509 teenage pregnancies between January and June this year.) 

While Malawi addresses the other causes of maternal deaths, the government is derailing to address unsafe abortions by enacting the Termination of Pregnancy Bill. By delaying and opposing the enactment of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, some indirectly say they want women to continue dying.
It is important to note that many countries in the region have excelled in abortion law reform.
Here is a look at abortion laws in Southern Africa.

Mozambique
Women in Mozambique are allowed to have a legal induced abortion to unintended pregnancy under the following conditions:
- To save the life of the woman
- Upon the woman's request during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for mental and physical health reasons
- During the first 16 weeks, if the pregnancy results from rape or incest; and
- During the first 24 weeks, if the woman's physical or mental health is at risk or in cases of disease or anomaly of the fetus.
- Safe abortion services at public health facilities are be free of charge.

Zambia
Women in Zambia are allowed to have a legal induced abortion to unintended pregnancy under the following conditions:
- To save the life of the woman
- To preserve the physical and mental health of the woman
- In the case of fetal impairment
- For economic or social reasons.

Zimbabwe
Women in Zimbabwe are allowed to have a legal induced abortion to unintended pregnancy under the following conditions:
-To save the life of the woman,
-To preserve physical health
-In cases of rape, defilement and incest
-In the case of foetal impairment.

Malawi
-Abortion is only permitted to save the life of the woman.

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What's the heart of the matter?

Malawi is the only country in the region stuck with a restrictive abortion law framed in the 1930s.
The good news is that Malawi will be on the same page with other SADC countries by enacting the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which the Malawi Law Commission drafted and is currently with the Ministry of Health.

The T.O.P Bill drafted by the Law Commission says:
Women in Malawi should be allowed to have a legal induced abortion to unintended pregnancy under the following conditions:
- To save the life of the woman,
- To preserve physical health
- In cases of rape, defilement and incest
- In the case of foetal impairment.

By enacting the draft Termination of Pregnancy Bill, Malawi will be domesticating the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on Women Rights in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which our neighbouring countries have domesticated Malawi.

Discussion Point
Why have our neighbouring countries reformed their colonial abortion laws, and yet Malawi continues to cling to an outdated piece of legislation on abortion?
This article is produced by the Centre for Solutions Journalism. Feedback This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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Last modified on Friday, 30/07/2021

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