The Fate of Kenya’s Reproductive Health Bill

A few days ago during one of my Certified Training Program (CTP) classes, we were discussing the concept of freedom in the third chapter. It occurred to me just how desensitised we have become as humans such that we agree to normalise anything and everything in the name of freedom. The Reproductive Healthcare (RH) Bill was a clear contradiction as to what human dignity is but yet more people were in support of it compared to when it was first introduced.

As of 2020, the RH Bill was introduced in the Kenyan parliament for the second time. The first time was in 2014 wherein it was withdrawn for further talks. Prior to its introduction, there had been a narrative pushed forward by various research groups on the rising cases of teenage pregnancies as a result of school closure and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Rescue Committee reported a tripled increase in adolescent pregnancies of up to 558 adolescents between March and June of 2020. Whereas the data is yet to be made public, it does give a glimpse of how crisis situations may leave young women vulnerable to early and unplanned pregnancies.

World Youth Alliance Africa opposed the passage of the RH bill. The staff met and worked with allies and partners and even made a submission to the committee handling the bill in the Kenyan senate. They highlighted three main points of contention:

1. The bill proposed termination of pregnancy

The Kenyan Constitution does in fact outlaw abortion outside of the provided conditions. Article 26(4) on The Right to Life clearly outlines conditions under which abortion is permitted. However, the RH Bill was vague in essence. For instance, it did not clearly account for healthcare professionals who would not want to be partisan in the termination of pregnancy.

WYA’s Reproductive Health White Paper stipulates that international law does not include abortion as a component of reproductive health.

It is thus surprising that a common argument for abortion has been made that access to safe abortion would reduce maternal mortality rate. This is a faulty assertion. According to the Partnership for Maternal and Child Health, Kenya’s maternal mortality rate is at 488 deaths per 100,000 live births. Another report by the What Women Want campaign highlights that a proper healthcare framework is what Kenya needs to tackle issues of maternal mortality rate and not abortion.

We therefore cannot entrust our women to healthcare providers without proper training and inadequate facilities to procure ‘safe’ abortions. To mitigate the maternal mortality rate, we should work on tackling the root cause of the problem. According to the WYA White Paper on Maternal Health, this can be done through:

  • Incorporation of skilled birth attendants who are up to date with current medical practices and can adequately care for pregnant women.
  • Prenatal care and support offered during pregnancy would enable healthcare providers detect problems early enough 
  • Educating women ensures they make informed choices  and would seek appropriate care and space their children from a point of understanding. Transport offered to these women also ensures they are able to get healthcare on time
  • Medical equipment and technology which do not have to be pricey. Machinery to cover for all basic medical requirements would suffice.

2. Provision of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and contraceptives to adolescents

CSE fails to be age appropriate and culturally sensitive. It places emphasis on sexual pleasure and advocates for exploration of sexuality and gender identity. It fails to provide a holistic human approach .

World Youth Alliance offers two programs for primary and highschool students, the Human Dignity Curriculum and TeenFEMM . These programs are carefully designed with activities and concepts based on the level of development of the child and offer a holistic approach as to who the human person is. HDC student testimonials have shown that children who went through these programs became more aware of their inherent dignity which grants them their worth. With this understanding, they are able to make excellent decisions concerning their bodies. Coupled with reinforcing the fight against sexual exploitation and adverse effects of contraception, this would be a more responsive approach to our children’s needs.  

3. Legalisation of Assisted Reproductive Services such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and Surrogacy

Finally, while it is understandable that people resort to surrogacy as a means to have children, it has reduced the human person to a commodity who can be used and discarded at will. The surrogates involved are often economically disadvantaged leaving them vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate health, legal and psychosocial support. WYA’s Surrogacy White Paper also indicates that surrogacy is bound to violate the child’s right under anti-trafficking law and implicate the child’s right to be cared for by their parents and belong to a nationality. Adoption law also prohibits giving away a child before birth and this is what happens in surrogacy. Before we get to surrogacy, we should consider options such as adoption.

Speaking of fate, I am particularly pleased that the introduction of the RH bill perfectly coincided with the International Solidarity Forum 2020 whose theme was also Reproductive Health. Why this is important to mention is because it prepared myself and other WYA Africa members to speak to Kenyan senators against this bill that went against our very essence of being. Making numerous calls and presentations to all 47 senators; we were determined to make our voices heard. The good news is that WYA Africa’s efforts paid off and the bill was withdrawn.  The Ministry of Health asked for the bill to be withdrawn for further talks.

The RH bill may make its way back into our policies again. Thus, this should be a constant conversation among the Kenyan youth and in our respective communities. I encourage all youth to be actively partisan in the various legislative processes that affect their communities so as to have an amplified voice when standing for the dignity of the human person.

Published: August 4, 2021
Written by: Miriam Ogwel, a current WYA Headquarters Online Intern from Kenya

Attain the skills to advocate for hard hitting issues like Reproductive Health like Miriam by applying for the WYA Advocacy Academy