Senegal: Associations call for legislative changes to allow medical abortions for women victims of rape and incest

| April 11, 2021

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Women’s associations in Senegal are pushing to legalize medical abortions to support women who are victims of rape and incest. At the age of 16, Maimouna was raped and impregnated by her own father. The events took place in a small village in the Kaolack region of central Senegal. Maimouna raised her son, Amadou, but when he learned about his parentage, he abandoned his mother and moved to The Gambia. Incest is an offense that doesn’t appear in the Senegalese penal code. But women who abort a pregnancy, even from incest, can face imprisonment. In 2012, more than 50,000 clandestine abortions occurred in the country, but a high number resulted in complications.

At the age of 16, Maimouna was raped and impregnated by her own father. The teen had no choice but to keep the child, who was a constant reminder of the despicable actions of her father. Abortion is not allowed in Senegal even though gender-based violence is a reality, among the worst forms of which are rape and incest.

Maimouna kept her secret for more than 30 years. She finally decided to confide, but with the greatest discretion. Maimouna can find no words to express the pain that has plagued her for three decades. And the wrinkles and fatigue on her face are not just the marks of her 50 years. They are also the scars of the abrupt and vile transition from adolescence to adulthood that changed her entire life.

The events took place in a small village in the Kaolack region of central Senegal. One evening, while Maimouna’s mother was looking for leaves to make sauce, she fell from a tree and became paralyzed. This was the start of a long, painful drama. Only 16 years old, the young girl was now responsible for looking after both her mother and the house. And the worst awaited her.

She recalls, “The first time that he (her father) committed this crime, he left the house at dawn. All alone, I languished in my pain.” Maimouna did not denounce her father. She had to continue caring for her mother, who was very ill and almost unconscious.

On his return home a few weeks later, the father continued the same pattern. This time, Maimouna became pregnant, which alerted relatives. At the family’s request, Maimouna kept the perpetrator of her pregnancy a secret. She thought about suicide but recovered. Her father died six months later—before his son, Amadou, was born.

Maimouna says, “In twelfth grade, Amadou was curious as to why there was only my name on his birth certificate.” When he was a child, Maimouna told him that his father had passed away. She did everything she could to put a name in the father’s space on Amadou’s birth certificate. But the law did not allow it. Nineteen years later, Amadou abandoned his mother after learning the truth about his story.

He went into exile in The Gambia, a country that neighbours Senegal. He does not intend to return to Senegal. Contacted by phone, he replied, “I’ve turned the page. Today I have a family that doesn’t know my story and I don’t intend to go back.”

Ndèye Madjiguène Sarr is a lawyer and consultant for the Association of Women Lawyers of Senegal. They would like a change to the penal code to recognize incest as a specific offense. She adds, “The incestuous father cannot recognize his child, even if he wishes to do so.”

Like Maimouna, thousands of young Senegalese women and girls live this drama. Worse, they suffer in silence.

According to the latest study by Association des jurists sénégalaises, the association of Senegalese jurists, abortion is the second-leading cause of imprisonment for women in the country. The association, which promotes the rights of women and children, states that 16% of Senegalese women in prison have had an abortion and 3% have committed infanticide. In 2012, more than 51,000 clandestine abortions occurred in Senegal, 17,600 of which resulted in complications, including serious health problems and / or legal action.

In Maimouna’s case, a safe abortion would have saved her from suffering the heavy penalty of raising a son produced by incest. As Khayra Thiam, a clinical psychologist, explains: “The consequences of rape followed by pregnancy are dire. The relationship between mother and child is confused and strained. This is why an additional psychological problem is added to the trauma of the victims.”

In mid-February 2021, 22 women’s rights organizations launched an advocacy campaign in Senegal to change the legislation and allow medical abortions. This advocacy targets cases of rape and especially incest that are followed by pregnancy. The one-month campaign was called “WuyuWallu,” which means a cry for help. Through this campaign, the organizations want to provide the general public with accurate information on these kinds of pregnancy that endanger the life and the moral and physical health of the mother.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

Photo: A woman listens to the radio.