LILONGWE – Rising cases of abortions among teenage Muslims in Malawi has sent alarm bells in the Muslim community, voicing concerns about the “gravely devastating” and “heartrending” phenomenon.
“We should admit that we have a problem in our community. Cases of teenage children going for abortions are on the rise within the Muslim community in Malawi, just as it is the case among other religions,” Fatima Ndaila, National Chairperson of Muslim Women Organization (MWO) told OnIslam.net.
“Unless, we explore measures to reverse this development, we are likely to lose a growing population of girls in our communities,” she added.
Abortion is illegal under the laws of Malawi, except in cases where pregnancy threatens the life of the mother.
Section 149 of the Malawi Penal Code condemns any person who administers an abortion to 14 years imprisonment, while Section 156 states that any woman who solicits an abortion is liable to 7 years in prison.
Despite existence of these laws, abortion still occurs, usually performed by untrained personnel.
According to the country’s Ministry of Health, Malawi’s maternal mortality rate which is one of the highest in the world has 35 per cent of the deaths attributed to unsafe abortions.
“Much as there has been never been an extensive research to gauge the magnitude of the problem, reports we are getting from health personnel and community leaders, cases of abortion are on the increase in the Muslim community although Islam is against the malpractice. It is therefore high time that we rose up and confronted this challenge,” Ndaila said.
“The rate at which cases of abortion are rising within our communities is gravely devastating and heartrending. This is a huge challenge which deserves our attention. We need to rescue our children from this death trap,” she added.
Ndaila partly blamed the escalating rate of abortion to what she calls “deadly silence” from community and religious leaders to fight unsafe abortions.
“As leaders, we really need to come forward and admit that we have not done much to break the silence surrounding abortion. It’s this level of silence which has slowly led to deaths of our children in their desperate attempt to seek abortion services,” Ndaila said.
In an attempt to reverse the situation, Ndaila said her organization alongside other institutions would be mobilizing resources to sensitize Muslim mothers on the devastating phenomenon and the stand of Islam on the same.
“We would like to take these messages to the mothers and the girl child that abortion has long lasting consequences,” she said.
“It should therefore be avoided at all cost and at the same time, it’s no room in Islam. This approach would help minimize the rising figures of girls terminating pregnancies.”
Senior Chief Chitera, a renowned champion of education of young girls in Malawi said pre-marital sex was one of the factors fueling unsafe abortions in the country.
“Young girls were indulging in pre-marital sex as a result, they get pregnant and in the end they are forced to go for abortions either by parents or peers. This has cost most of them opportunities to further their education,” Chitera told OnIslam.net.
“What we are doing in our community is to reach out to the girls on the dangers of abortion. We are advising them to abstain from pre-marital sex. We are slowly getting there and with time, we would have managed to normalize the situation for the better of our society.”
Muslim concerns surrounding abortion increased following a campaign by women rights activists to force the government to make abortion legal in the highly conservative southern African nation.
In their relentless campaign to push for the decriminalization of the abortion laws, the women rights activists argue that if abortion was legal in the country, lives of poor women and girls in rural areas would be saved from deaths and at the same time.
They added that resources currently being used to treat post-abortion complications could be channeled towards improving quality health delivery services in public hospitals.
“We very much understand the cultural, moral and religious attachments towards abortion, but our stand is that despite abortion being illegal, the fact is that women from urban areas seek abortion services in private health clinics where they get safe abortions, while those poor girls in rural areas go to backstreet clinics and get a very poor service,” Seodi White, National Coordinator for Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA –Malawi) told OnIslam.net.
“Most of them are dying, while others end up not being able to have babies ever again.”
“Unless, we change our attitude towards abortion in this country, we should be prepared to lose more lives especially in the rural areas. Should we really lose lives while there is a possibility that we can prevent them,” queried the vocal activist.
But religious leaders have trashed the campaign describing abortion as both ‘immoral” and “sinful”.
“To begin with, abortion is sin. We don’t tolerate this in Islam. We therefore, can’t be part of any attempts to legalize it in Malawi,” Sheikh Dinala Chabulika, National Coordinator of Islamic Information Bureau (IIB) told OnIslam.net.
“In Islam, abortion is permissible only where there is proof from a Muslim doctor that the life of a mother was in danger, otherwise, we respect the dictates of Islam on abortion,” said Chabulika.
Along with Muslim leaders, Christian leaders said it was “morally misplaced” to push for legalization of abortion in the country.
“It’s morally misplaced for any section of the Malawi society to be pushing for legalization of abortion,” Father George Buleya, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), a mother body of the country’s largest Christian denomination, Roman Catholic, told OnIslam.net.
“The idea alone is shaking the moral standing of the country as a religious nation. We can’t be part to this,” Buleya, whose denomination has remained in protest against legalizing abortion for along time, said.
“What we really need to so as religious leaders is to force our followers to change life styles which have harmful consequences.”
A study conducted by the health ministry in 2009 showed that the country is spending a significant amount of money on treating post-abortion complications.
Despite research findings that have highlighted health risks and economic costs incurred due to existing laws on abortion, health authorities have remained reluctant to declare their position on the possible liberalization of these laws.
But the leadership of the Muslim Women Organization believes that despite the existence of laws which criminalize abortion, there was need to break the silence surrounding abortion in the country.
“Whether abortion is legal or not, what’s important at the moment is to rise up to the challenge of creating a society where our children will not silently die due to unsafe abortions,” said Ndaila.
“We need to attain a society where silence will no longer surround this issue.”
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