By Irene Wali
The East African Community Legislative Assembly (EALA) has drafted a BILL known as EAC Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) BILL 2017. When the bill becomes law it intends to prevent unwanted pregnancies, risky abortion and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
Extracts of the bill read:
The partner states shall ensure that adolescents and young persons get access to relevant quality and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services including contraceptives and condoms,” reads Section 17(2) of the proposed Bill.
Part I (2) of the proposed Bill, describes an “Adolescent” as any person aged between 10 and 19 years.
Under Section 15 (1), the Bill intends to legalize abortion, provided the pregnancy endangers the woman’s health and life.
SRHR is an integral part of the right to health enshrined in article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and a wide range of other international human rights instruments. Moreover, SRHR are firmly acknowledged in the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular, protection and promotion of SRHR stands out as a core pledge under SDG 3 on health, and SDG 5 on gender equality.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights is a vast, complex and sensitive area. Those who promote SRHR argue that adequate knowledge and access to SRHR directly contribute to reducing the number of maternal deaths and deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions, and the percentage of people with sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV/AIDS.
Some of the sensitive areas in the field of SRHR include;
- Access to and acceptance of safe abortion
- Combating sexual and domestic violence
Enhancing the sexual rights and health of marginalized groups, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people (LGBT), people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV), single women and young people
Promoting comprehensive sexuality education for young people
However, the EAC SRHR BILL 2017 is surrounded with controversy and with a lot of undertones of its un African and with a western agenda. This does not come as a surprise, as at the international level there has never been any resolution even at the UN itself that recognizes sexual and reproductive health rights.
Those who argue against the EAC SRHR Bill , claims that it makes reference to the Maputo Protocol, and yet, a country like Tanzania, ratified the Maputo protocol with reservation to Article 14 (2) (c), meaning that Tanzania is not party to such a provision that promotes abortion on demand.
That Comprehensive Education on Sexual and Reproductive Health, as specified by the meeting of the 1st African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Health, Population and Drug Control (STC-HPDC) in 2015 refers to “age-appropriate and culturally sensitive comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health for young people that involves parents and communities”
In contrast, the EAC SRHR bill in defining abortion states in Part III –Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services—Article 15:(1) The Partner States shall safeguard and give effect to the reproductive rights of a woman by permitting the termination of pregnancy when in the opinion of a trained health professional, the pregnancy endangers the health or life of the woman.
Uganda has come out strongly to reject the EAC SRHR in totality, “as they view the EAC SRHR bill as an attempt to attack the innocence of children, and reject any move that expose children to sexual and economic exploitation through mandating/legalizing contraception and abortion on demand for all citizens including children”. The rest of EAC countries are yet to make public pronouncement of the bill.
Though there seems to be a rush by EALA members to pass the bill into an ACT before their term ends on June 4th 2017. It is very important for government s and CSOs to take more time to interrogate further all the regional and international legal and policy instruments. To ensure that they fully embrace and conform to the concepts, frameworks and definitions on SRHR as pronounced in these instruments and that they align to a large extent to governments domestic laws and the ACRWC. At the same time continue to gather public opinion on this bill, including from pro-life activists who oppose a law that provides access to abortion and contraceptives to children.
- International Conference on Population Development (ICPD, 1994);
As it is, the biggest challenge faced by EALA is passing the bill and if passed, the next hurdle will be on the ability of EAC to ensure that states adopt, domesticate and implement this bill. A lot of advocacy will be required to convince our own communities that the content of the bill as it is now represent issues of fairness and human dignity to our girls and women.
Irene Wali is an African Regional child rights & protection expert
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