This is why the abortion rights of youths and adolescents matter

The right to a safe and legal abortion is denied to the majority of women across the African continent, and indeed the world. Yunah unpacks some of the impacts that this has on the life chances of women & girls.

“Say it loud, say it proud. My body, my rights”

I recently ran across an article written by Kali Hawlk,  a US blogger, and something caught in my mind and is still rattling in my head. She said: "change means you’re not settling for anyone else’s idea of what life should be like. Change means you’re willing to bend and flex as you receive new information about your true self and the world around you”.

I challenged myself in this blog to herald about things that I wish to see changing - specifically in the sector of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of youths and adolescents - and why that change is important.

I am a young Zimbabwean who believes in abortion rights for youths and adolescents. I have no doubt that restrictive abortion laws do violate girls human rights based on agreements made at the UN International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing and lastly as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Therefore, as the world braces up towards celebrating Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion which is celebrated on the 28th of September every year , this blog will focus on why abortion rights are a necessity and how their absence jeopardizes the future of youths and adolescents.

I will begin with a quote from Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie a Nigerian female novelist. ”Culture doesn’t make people, but people make culture, if the full humanity of women is not part of our culture, then we must make it our culture.”

I concur with her sentiments and I strongly feel that the erasure and silencing of women in the abortion rights discourse should be done away with. It's this silence which perpetuates the unfettered power of culture and restrictive laws to play it’s subjugating role in downplaying  the ideas and efforts of legalizing safe abortion rights, making the environment for girls more habitable and humane.

The impact of restricted access to abortion on girls

If legalizing safe abortion is not a part of our culture, we should make it one. A lot of young girls are missing out on many education opportunities and some die in the process of unsafe termination of pregnancy because their culture doesn’t permit them to abort, and what's more, schools are playing a policing role by denying pregnant girls the right to attend school.

This devastating experience takes away hope and aspirations of girls who risk becoming dependents for the rest of their lives as looking after their child at the expense of an education of future becomes a horrible reality.

Moreover, adolescents and youths in developing countries who lack essential services such as provision of contraceptive methods, if they have no access to safe and legal abortion, are likely to die in the process of carrying out unsafe abortions. Some girls attempt to terminate their babies by inserting sharp objects into their uterus which results in them injuring themselves. 

If by chance they survive, they risk developing health complications such as fistula* and may not be able to conceive again in their lifetime as their reproductive tracts are still narrow and immature, they tear during a forceful process of delivery.

Furthermore, research has it that only three countries in Africa - namely Cape Verde, South Africa and Tunisia - allow safe and legal abortion.

This is not good as many young women, especially in poor and developing countries, don’t know when to have children and when to stop, a factor which has led them to have more children than they desire to have, or are able to take care of.

As an aftermath, taking care of these children and providing meaningful education becomes a problematic issue as these young mothers are poor, unemployed and uneducated. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty within the family. Putting in place the right to a safe and legal abortion would be a huge step towards averting this situation as girls can choose to have a safe abortion and continue with their education than risk becoming young, irresponsible mothers.

To elucidate further, as a young person I do understand that abstinence is undoubtedly the most reliable method in avoiding pregnancy and STIs, but truth be told, few young people are now able, or should I say are willing, to abstain.  As the number of young people who are engaging in sexual activities is increasing, so should we scale up efforts to make sure that safe and legal abortion rights are put in place. 

Making abortion safe and accessible will help young girls choose their future wisely and have a second chance.

Most of the young people who are getting into these early sexual debuts don’t understand the implications of falling pregnant and how to take care of the consequences. The idea of becoming mothers at such a tender age is usually not acceptable to them, so some will see baby dumping as the only solution. Besides that, society in most cases stigmatises girls who fall pregnant while still at school. Making abortion safe and accessible will help young girls choose their future wisely and have a second chance. This will decrease the chances of teenage mothers dropping out of high school and pave the way for education to meaningfully empower them.

I believe that making the world a better and safer place to live in for adolescents and youths begins by making sure safe and legal abortion rights are put in place. Birth control is critical to women’s health, equality and economic security. Without these provisions, the human rights laws that protects freedom of expression and right to life will remain a fallacy to girls.

Fistula is a silent disease, which has serious consequences,  sufferers usually have solitary lives and young girls experiencing that from a tender age is unbearable. In Africa fistula is highly stigmatized and victims usually accumulate names for themselves, it is at times associated with infidelity and witchcraft. These sad situations can only be averted if safe and legal abortion rights are put in place.