3 January 2018

East Africa: EALA Set to Debate Sexual Health Bill

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is preparing a law to prevent unwanted pregnancies, risky abortions and sexually transmitted infections in East Africa.

The regional assembly is expected to debate and pass the Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Bill 2017.

The Bill states that EAC member countries will ensure that adolescents and young people get access to relevant, quality and youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services, including contraceptives.

The Bill describes an adolescent as any person aged between 10 and 19 years. It intends to legalise abortion, where the pregnancy endangers the woman's health and life.

Some key sections of the SRHR Bill are under contention including access to and acceptance of safe abortion, and combating sexual and domestic violence.

The Bill also focuses on enhancing the sexual rights and overall health of marginalised groups such as sex workers, men who have sex with men, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people, and people living with HIV/Aids.

Joyce Abalo, the senior advisor at Incubator for Integration and Development in East Africa said that if the Bill is passed the challenge will be how EAC partner states will adopt and implement it.

"A lot of advocacy will be required to ensure that the partner states will implement the Bill," said Ms Abalo at a meeting in October held in Arusha on opportunities to advance sexual human rights through the East African Court of Justice. The meeting was organised by the NGO Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (Kelin).

Kelin's deputy executive director Tabitha Griffith said the organisation will continue to participate in the regional legislative process and advocate for the incorporation of a rights-based approach to the legislation.

Regional court

East African Court of Justice president Emmanuel Ugirashebuja said at the meeting that the court recently established sub-registries in all partner states that enable litigants to file cases in their respective countries instead of travelling to Arusha.

He said the major challenges the EACJ faces include delays in finalising cases because some judges serve in their national courts.

He added that there is a need for judges to be permanent at the seat of the court.

Budgetary constraints also limit the work of EACJ across the region as the court is unable to carry out sensitisation and outreach programmes.

"We will focus on holding sessions in the partner states. That would improve the visibility and access of the court to EAC citizens and residents," Justice Ugirashebuja said.

"The court expects a number of new developments, if the financial autonomy of the court is assented to by the EAC heads of state."

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