Sex Workers Call for Legalisation of Safe Abortions

Pauline Chateuka

In Zimbabwe’s 1977 Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is only legally permitted under certain circumstances. If conducted illegally, it carries a penalty of up to five years in jail or a fine.

Unsafe and illegal backyard abortion facilities by unlicensed midwives have increased in recent years. These non-surgical procedures carry the risk of severe complications and cause maternal deaths. Sex workers from rural areas have not been excluded from these life-threatening practices in the country.

According to a survey conducted by Guttmacher Institute, four out of ten women who undergo abortions in Zimbabwe experience complications including hemorrhages or infection, with some even dying in the process. In Zimbabwe in 2016, an estimated 65,300 induced abortions occurred in Zimbabwe. This translates to a rate of 17 abortions for every 1,000 women aged 15–49.

CORAH managed to interview sex workers at Juru Growth Point in Goromonzi to unearth the untold stories they face when having unsafe abortions. Under the country’s restrictive abortion laws sex workers who want to abort their pregnancies must find a way to do so on their own. To begin with, sex work is a criminal offense in the country. Sex workers are then forced to consult unregulated midwives who sell herbs that assist with the termination of pregnancy. The Demographic Health Survey in Zimbabwe states that 30% of maternal mortalities are due to unsafe abortions.

“How do I keep doing my job as a sex worker if I allow myself to have a baby? Decision-makers must legalise safe abortions not limited to certain circumstances. With the current economic hardships that the country is facing it’s hard to find a mhene (customer) that will help me look after the baby since l don’t have a reliable source of income?” said Melody a sex worker at Juru Growth Point.

Katswe Sistahood, an organisation that advocates and lobby for women’s rights have pushed for the country to review the Termination of Pregnancy Act, which only permits abortion to save the life of the pregnant woman if the pregnancy poses danger to both mother and child or if the fetus was conceived as a result of rape, incest, or intercourse with a mentally handicapped woman.

Debra Mwase Katswe Sistahood Programmes Manager

“There is need to change how abortion is viewed and the law has some gaps which need urgent attention because the current abortion law does not give sex workers a chance to make their own choices the process is extremely expensive for them hence there is need to revisit the Zimbabwean abortion law,”said Debra Mwase Katswe Sistahood programs manager

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