How 13-year-old Kenyan girls find their way to risky abortions

By Gatonye Gathura

Health workers are worried over 13 year-old-girls who are not just getting pregnant but also into dangerous abortions.

In candid discussions with researchers, medical workers are telling of a rise in number of pre-teen girls reporting to hospitals with botched abortions.

The girls are coming in as young as 13 but unfortunately health workers say are not enthusiastic in helping the equally reluctant patients.

The health workers strongly believe at this age the young girls should be busy looking into their books and not making babies let alone killing the unborn.

The study by the American affiliated African Population and Health Research Center, Nairobi, appeared on September 22 in the journal of Studies in Family Planning.

The researchers had collected data from both public and private health facilities in Nairobi and other parts of the country that offer post abortion services especially to younger women.

Data was collected from doctors, nurses and clinical officers, most who showed much reluctance in attending to women who either want an abortion or have made an unsuccessful attempt.

Most of those coming to the hospitals with incomplete abortion, the medics says are unmarried and aged below 24 years but are increasingly seeing girls as young as 13.

“Like the one I treated last month, very young girl, about 13 years old,” explained a health worker. The girl, the medic said had tried to secure an abortion through a traditional birth attendant.

These young girls, the authors say are brought to the formal hospitals after things go wrong in back street clinics. In some cases the girls, even while in great pain are reluctant to disclose that they had attempted an abortion.

One health worker tells of this school girl who had tried an abortion but had claimed to be suffering from diarrhea. The girl was then wrongly treated for diarrhea and died on the third day.

“Once they get pregnant from their bad behavior, they try to hide it and they will not tell you the truth when they are seeking treatment,” said the health worker.

Medics say most of the young girls may come complaining of a physical assault, headache, pains, malaria, or fever, only later to die of abortion induced infection.

Another health worker tells of this mother who lost her daughter just 15 minutes after getting to the hospital. “She washed my clothes yesterday, with all this pain and she couldn’t tell me,’’ said a shocked mother.

But the study also shows the young girls facing a hostile formal health system unlikely to help them abort safely let alone complete a botched one.

Many health workers, the researchers were told have a bad attitude when they find a young patient coming in with bleeding or abortion complications.

“Some don’t want to touch a young person who has an abortion or bleeding; they scold them, so that is a major challenge,” sad a medic.

Health providers the report says told of cases where young abortion patients are treated without pain killers are abused sexually and sometimes threatened with police arrest.

So how then do the young girls know where to get the illegal abortions? This was answered recently by a team of health experts including Prof Alloys Orago the former head of the National Aids Control Council and Dr Joachim Osur of Amref Health Africa.

The experts in an earlier study said the school system has been infiltrated by illegal abortion providers who have planted agents to direct pregnant girls to their clinics.

“Communities have developed elaborate but illegal abortion-referral systems involving schools, parents, health workers, herbalists and even the police,” said Dr Osur, the lead author of the study appearing in the African Journal of Reproductive Health.

“My cousin, a student at a nearby school and a neighbour’s daughter in another school act as my agents, referring needy girls my way,” one of the illegal, abortion service providers had told the researchers.

In an earlier interview Dr Osur told this writer that even teachers are aware of the system and use it to refer girls they may have impregnated to backstreet abortion providers.

The researchers were surprised that in more than 90 per cent of the instances where a pregnant girl approached a friend, relative, mother, teacher or the man responsible for advice, they were advised to go for an illegal abortion.

Of 212 men responsible for pregnancies, when asked what to do by the girls, 193 told them to abort; five advised the girl to keep the child and 13 told them to make their own decision.

On the other hand, out of 69 mothers who had been asked for advice by their pregnant daughters, 66 told them to abort and only three were for keeping the pregnancy.

The new study, led by Chimaraoke O. Izugbara blames the pain facing young women seeking abortions as a denial of their human rights.

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