Expand access to abortion, UN committee tells Malawi

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW)
United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW)

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW) is now recommending that the government of Malawi implement laws and policies to expand access to safe and legal abortion, as well as address reproductive rights violations including child marriage and sexual violence.

The UN CEDAW recommendations call for Malawi to amend its abortion law to legalize safe abortion services when there is a risk to the health or life of the pregnant woman, in cases of rape and incest, and cases of severe fetal impairments—as well as ensuring its legal and practical availability without restrictive reporting requirements.

The UN CEDAW also noted that there was “high prevalence of harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation…” and urged Malawi to effectively implement existing laws and policies prohibiting these illegal practices, provide access to justice for survivors of these abuses and adequately punish all perpetrators.

In the last three years, the Malawi government has enacted laws and policies to address a range of human rights issues including child marriage, gender inequality and human trafficking with legislation pending in Parliament that would expand access to safe and legal abortion.

Abortion in Malawi is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison, however, only allowed if a health provider determines the pregnancy endangers a woman’s life. The current restrictive law has led to 70,000 Malawian women seeking unsafe abortion each year.

The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a letter to U.N. CEDAW raising concerns over a number of human rights violations affecting women and girls, including child marriage, maternal mortality and morbidity, lack of access to contraception, unsafe abortion, sexual violence, sexuality education and retention of girls in school.

In its recommendations to Malawi, UN CEDAW noted the high number of teenage pregnancies and lack of comprehensive and age appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights and family planning services, as well as limited access to modern contraceptives.

Additional recommendations by UN CEDAW include enacting laws and policies to tackle violence against women, including domestic violence, criminalize marital rape, provide adequate support services and access to justice for sexual assault survivors.

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Story By Gathoni Jemimah
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