No end to illegal abortions
KABUL (Pajhwok): Desperate families are resorting to abortion in unsafe conditions and abandoning newborns, particularly female infants, in hospitals. It is not unusual to find an aborted foetus in city garbage dumps, according to an investigation by the Independent Media Consortium (IMC) Productions.
In Afghanistan, like in many countries in the world, women do not have the right to abortion unless there are life-threatening complications. Here doctors risk imprisonment or a fine not less than 12,000 Afs (210 USD) for performing an abortion -- even if with the women’s consent.
Abortion laws make n
o concessions for survivors of rape or domestic abuse. The shame of sex outside wedlock is so strong that a rape survivor has little chance of living a normal life, and is instead blamed for bringing dishonour to the family and tribe.
In January 2009, the media reported the terrifying ordeal of a 14-year-old whose brother cut out her 5-month foetus with a razor blade, then stitched up the wound with string. Doctors in Bamyan discovered the truth when the sick girl was brought to hospital with a severely infected wound. Her 20-year-old brother was arrested and the foetus recovered. He said he was attempting to hide his sister’s pregnancy. The
man accused of raping the teen was a construction worker helping to build a school near her home.
There are no official figures of unsafe abortions, but an official in the sanitation department of Kabul Municipality who was interviewed by IMC says some 70 aborted foetuses were found in landfills in the Gazak area of Bagrami district, Kabul province, in the past one year. Abdul Basir Akhundzada, who works as a manager in Gazak, told IMC that at least two or three foetuses are found in a month. For the last
six years, all the garbage from Kabul, a city of five million, is transported and buried in two landfills here called Gazak-Part 1 and Gazak-Part 2.
Sometimes the foetus is not
fully formed. Some are nearly nine months. But in each case the cleaners bury the foetus according to Islamic funeral rites in a makeshift graveyard next to the landfill. The small, unmarked graves are easy to spot though some have been leveled by the passage of time.
According to Akhundza
da, Kabul Municipality has been disposing hospital wastes elsewhere. A municipal cleaner who did not want to be identified said foetuses have also been found in city garbage containers. He said he has been working for the last seven years, and there is not a month that they have not found “three to four foetuses in garbage skips in Kabul City”.
Mohammad Rafie, a deputy director in the municipality’s cleaning department, confirmed that aborted foetuses were found when skips were emptied into trucks taking waste to Gazak.
Recently the police were informed when the bodies of two newly-born infants were recovered from city rubbish dumps by Kabul
Municipality staff. The staff here has been trained to report the matter to the police.
Nasratullah, a student, told IMC the body of a new-born girl was found behind the buildings in Sharak Telayi township. Later local people and the police buried her in Shuhada Salehin graveyard.
Niaz Mohammad, a witness, thinks there are only two reasons why dead new-borns are left in the garbage: she may have been born out of wedlock, or rejected because she was female. “Such views are common,” Mohammad observes. People in provinces outside the capital are also prejudiced, he adds.
Khadem Husain, the mayor o
f Bamyan City, claims aborted foetuses were found in garbage skips next to Bamyan University. But he did not give more details.
Mohammad Maroof Mukhtar, an appeals lawyer in the Attorney General’s Office for Takhar province says two foetuses were found in farm land adjoining the provincial capital Taluqan.
IMC interviewed a young man who got the young woman he was in love with pregnant. The man who did not want to be identified said the pregnancy was confirmed through an ultrasound. However, none of the c
linics they went to were prepared to perform an abortion except one which demanded 22,000 Afs (385 USD). The man was very remorseful of the situation he had put the woman in, and described it as an “unforgivable sin”. Had her family agreed to their marrying “we would never have aborted the foetus”, he says.
Dr Mohammad Hashem Wahaj of the Wahaj Private Hospital, Kabul, says his hospital does not admit women unless there are l
ife-threatening complications. According to him, women who cannot prove they are married are turned away when they come to the hospital for a pregnancy ultrasound.
Wahaj blames unintended pregnancies on moral corruption in society. He rues the influence of western culture on Afghan youth: the “unlimited liberty” given to women and men, and the raising of the age of marriage in the last decade.
Dr Najia Alemi, a specialist in Kabul’s government-run Rabia Balkhi Maternity Hospital, says government hospitals prohibit abortion but not private medical facilities. She wants the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to crack down on illegal abortion.
MoPH spokesman Dr Kaneshka Baktash Turkistani said the ministry was not aware of illegal abortions in private clinics.
Dr Mohammad Ayaz
Niazai, a lecturer at the Religious Studies Faculty of Kabul University, says the country’s abortion laws adhere to Islam. To dump a foetus in the garbage is anti-Islam. It must be bathed, wrapped in white cloth and buried, he adds.
Najibullah Zadran Babrakzai, responsible for protecting children’s rights in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), believes “human rights and dignity are breached when the aborted foetus is not buried”.
Kabul Police c
hief General Mohammad Zahir Zahir says the police have not made any arrests for illegal abortion. Arrests have been made in cases where the husband and wife were estranged, and the wife resorted to abortion in unsafe conditions. Women take a deadly cocktail of medicines to force a miscarriage, or turn to midwives for help to terminate the pregnancy.
General Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, provincial police chief of Herat, says no complaint has ever been filed for clandestine abortion practices. The police have been cracking down on moral corruption, and trying to arrest perpetrators, the general said.
Basir Azizi, a spokesperson in the Attorney General’s (AG) Office, said there are cases under investigation of a wife who miscarried because she was beaten by her husband, and women with unintended pregnancies who aborted the foetus.
“Investigation has been completed in some cases and files sent to the court, which has taken a decision,” Azizi said not giving any details.
Dr Fatema Nazari, a specialist a
t Rabia Balkhi Maternity Hospital said she has seen babies who were abandoned by mothers after the delivery. Often the reasons are the gender of the baby, and the parents’ inability to provide for another child. The abandoned infants in Rabia Balkhi were handed over to the MoPH for adoption.
Nine new-born girls and two boys were left in three Kabul hospitals in the last 10 months, according to MoPH’s Department of Curative Medicine.
Dr Nazari said a new-born baby girl was left at the back of her consulting room at the hospital last year.
Mohammad Ajmal, a Kabul resident, said a neighbour in the 16th District found a female infant wrapped in a blanket in a gr
aveyard in Tapa Maranjan. Ajmal and his wife who were childless adopted the baby.
A worker, Abdul Qayum, in the 17th District, found a new-born baby boy in a garbage skip in Dewan Bigi area. The child, however, died because it was exposed to the bitter cold.
Mirza Mohammad Reja, the head of the provincial health department of Kapisa, says unwanted babies are abandoned also in hospitals in his province. His counterpart in Nangarhar, Dr Baz Mohammad Sherzad, said there were two cases in the government hospital last year. In both cases the mothers died in childbirth, and the fathers were not ready to take their daughters home.
Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be pregnant.
Maternal mortality rates are one of the highest in the world.
Mohammad Maroof Mukhtar, a lawyer in Takhar province, said a baby girl who was found in a garden in the state capital T
aluqan four months ago, was handed over to a man called Jamaludin in Rustaq district. The decision was taken by an unnamed influential local.
Esmatullah from Raj village in Farah province says he found a 2-month-old infant on his way to the mosque. The boy is now with his neighbour Bismillah who has no children.
A woman who gives birth to a daughter risks being beaten by her husband and his family members. Latifa, 35, a mother of six in the Qala-e-Zaman Khan area in Kabul, says after each birth she was brutally abused by her husband. “My husband told me to abort the foetus when the ultrasound showed it was female. But I don’t want be considered a murderer on Judgment Day,” Now Latifa is two-months pregnant with he
r seventh child. She hopes it will be a son or her husband has threatened to marry again.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, a press officer at the AIHRC, says the obsession with sons is contrary to the Shariah and against Islam and human rights. The AG’s Office has recorded some 8,000 cases since 2009 of heinous abuse when women bore girls or were infertile.
(*) Independent Media Consortium is a joint initiative of Pajhwok Afghan News, The Killid Group (radio and print media), Saba Media Organisation (Saba TV-Radio Nawa networks) and Hasht-e-Subh. This storyt is part of a series of investigative reports on corruption and human rights cases.
A report by Pajhwok reporters Khuja Basir Fetri and Zarghoona Salehi, and edited by Azizi. The series editor is Abdul Qadeer Munsif.
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