- Report says multi-department mandates often hinder the right to legal abortion
Serious problems and complexities surround the process of legal abortion for victims of sexual violence, including rape, defilement and incest, a report released by the Ministry of Justice on children’s rights and challenges has concluded.
The report reveals how indecision and the nature of multi-department mandates often hinder the right to abortion when the victim desires to terminate the pregnancy in such cases.
“The provision of legal abortion for victims of rape, defilement, or incest is to be determined by a qualified medical practitioner,” it says.
A form of torture
“However, the inherent indecisiveness within the system frequently results in a failure to adhere to the legally provided timeframe of 16 weeks.
“This, in turn, leaves a traumatised child carrying an unwanted child to full term, a practice that has been recognised as a form of torture by the United Nations Human Rights Working Group.”
One of the interviewees expresses the anguish of the process in the report thus: “There is a very painful circumstance when your children get defiled. Some of them fall pregnant. There is a provision under which they can have abortions.
Chain of decisions
“However, the chain of decisions between the social worker who determines, the doctor who examines, the magistrate who must make the order, the police officer who investigates, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who must consent to the abortion so that the doctor is assured that he/she is not committing a crime, takes too much time, endangering the life of the victim.”
Abortion in Botswana is permitted only in specific circumstances, namely on request, for economic or social reasons, to preserve a woman’s health, to preserve a woman’s mental health, to preserve a woman’s physical health, or to save a woman’s life, as well as in cases of foetal impairment, incest, intellectual/cognitive disability of the woman and rape.
The report calls for an urgent need for streamlining and expediting the legal abortion process for young victims of sexual violence, ensuring that their right to choose is upheld within the legally mandated timeframe.
It also agitates for improved coordination among relevant authorities to reduce the trauma and potential harm experienced by these victims during the decision-making process.