Yesterday, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) hosted a live Facebook discussion with ICJ Commissioner, Justice Qinisile Mabuza (Eswatini), to discuss access to abortion care in Eswatini. The conversation focused on Swazi women’s reproductive health rights and the path to legalizing abortion in the country.
The ICJ has consistently advocated for legalization of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) rights in Eswatini, including through another short, animated video on SRH rights more broadly and a research report on Swazi Women’s Right to Health During the Time of COVID-19, both launched in 2021. Despite Eswatini’s obligations under international human rights law, and the fact that the country’s Constitution guarantees women’s rights, abortions are only allowed in exceptional circumstances, as certified by a doctor to exist. Although the Constitution more broadly permits abortion “on such other ground as Parliament may prescribe”, Eswatini’s Parliament has not yet enacted such legislation on abortion. Regarding ICJ’s advocacy on this issue, ICJ Africa Regional Director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh said:
“Ensuring access to safe, legal and effective abortion services is central in upholding women’s human rights. The recent decision of the High Court of Kenya which affirmed that abortion care is a fundamental right under the Kenyan Constitution, is an excellent example. Advocacy toward the protection of this right in Eswatini and in other African countries yet to legalize abortion remains critical.”
Watch the animated video below:
Commissioner Mabuza outlined the circumstances under which women could legally obtain an abortion in Eswatini and the role of courts in ensuring access to justice for victims of sexual violence. As regards the current debate surrounding the legalization of abortion, the Commissioner shared that:
“I am optimistic. Always optimistic that there is enough advocacy and evidence of backstreet abortions which lead to death and disfigurement of reproductive organs, that Parliament may be persuaded, under section 15(5)(c), to decriminalize abortion. Under that section, there is a window of opportunity and if they use that, the matter, at some point would be on the agenda in Parliament.”
To realize the right to health of women and girls in Eswatini, the ICJ recommends that the Eswatini authorities take the following measures:
- Clarify the law relating to abortion services, including by prescribing that such services be available whenever a person makes an informed, autonomous choice to request them.
- Ensure safe, legal and effective access to abortion services in line with the World Health Organization’s guidance.
- Remove any legal restrictions on abortion services that endanger the lives of women and girls, subject them to mental or physical pain or suffering, discriminate against them, or violate their right to privacy.
- Ensure access to a range of sexual and reproductive health goods, services and facilities without discrimination.
Mulesa Lumina, Communications Officer (Africa Regional Programme), e: email@example.com
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Director (Africa Regional Programme), e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading[Report] Swazi Women’s Right to Health during COVID-19 Report 2021 ENG [Article] High Court of Kenya in Malindi Ruling in PAK and Salim Mohammed vs. the Attorney General and 3 others Web stories