The Need for Education: Abortion in Tanzania

By Lina Mwabuka, WYA HQ Intern from Tanzania

Abortion legislation in the United Republic of Tanzania is based on the English Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 and the Infant Life (Preservation) Act of 1929. Under the Revised Penal Code of Tanzania (chapter 16, sections 150-152) the performance of abortions is generally prohibited.  Any person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, unlawfully uses any means upon her is subject to 14 years’ imprisonment.  A pregnant woman who undertakes the same act with respect to her own pregnancy or permits it to be undertaken is subject to seven years’ imprisonment. Any person who supplies anything whatsoever, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a woman, is subject to three years’ imprisonment.

Nonetheless, an abortion may be performed to save the life of a pregnant woman. Section 230 of the Code provides (states) that a person is not criminally responsible for performing, in good faith and with reasonable care and skill, a surgical operation upon an unborn child for the preservation of the mother’s life. The performance of the operation must be reasonable, having regard to the patient’s state at the time, and to all the circumstances of the case.  In addition, Section 219 of the Code provides that no person shall be guilty of the offence of causing by willful act a child to die before it has an independent existence from its mother if the act was carried out in good faith for the purpose of preserving the mother’s life. (Source:  Population Policy Data Bank maintained by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. )

Although abortion is restricted by law, there is overwhelming evidence that it is widely practiced in the country. The Government has expressed concern about the high incidence of illegal abortion because of its effect on maternal morbidity and mortality.  Studies show that illegal abortion is one of the major causes of maternal mortality. Here are some of examples which happen in real life.  A student who had unprotected sex becomes pregnant.  She fears that her parents will throw her out on the street or that she will no longer be able to proceed with her education, so she decides to do an illegal abortion. This is very dangerous but in Tanzania, most people in rural areas perform abortion in very risky ways. I have been told that some people use green tea and ashes to do abortions, which is very dangerous.

One example is of a young lady in Mwanza, Tanzania who babysat my sister’s baby. She is dead now.  She was pregnant and used traditional medicine to have an abortion. Those medicines affected her uterus such that she bled daily but she was afraid to tell anyone. One day she became very sick so she was taken to the hospital. The doctor saw her and asked her whether she had had an abortion.  She refused to answer, so the doctor gave her medicine and then they returned home. Her condition got worse as the days went on, so they took her to the regional hospital.   The doctor there asked her the same question, but she refused to say it again. So they give her a bed in the hospital and provided her with blood because she had lost too much blood from her body. Due to lack of education, her mother came from her village and took her daughter out of hospital without the doctor’s permission for the purpose of taking her back to the village because there was a witch doctor there that could treat her. On the way back to village the poor girl died..

The issue of abortion is very serious. We have to stop it for the baby’s life , because she/he has a right to live—and also for the health and wellbeing of the mother. Education for women should be provided so that people can understand the disadvantages of abortion. Parents are afraid to talk to their children. We need real efforts in support of education in developing countries. I wish the March for Life, the annual march to protest abortion in the United States, could take place one day in Africa so that everyone could be made aware of the consequences of abortion.