Namibia: Police Record Drop in Illegal Abortion Cases

THE Namibian Police said it recorded seven illegal abortions from January to August this year, a decrease from 17 cases in 2020. In 2019 and 2018, 29 and 18 cases were reported, respectively.

These figures were made available by the Namibian Police's deputy inspector general for administration, Anna-Marie Nainda, who was speaking at the public hearings on abortion, currently ongoing in Windhoek. The hearings are conducted in front of the parliamentary standing committee on gender equality, social development and family.

Nainda said in terms of legalised abortions, two cases were reported this year, six in 2020 and five in 2019.

Legal abortions are described as pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, if the pregnancy endangers the life or mental health of the mother, or if the unborn may suffer from physical or mental defects.

From January to August, 22 cases of concealment of birth were reported, while in 2020, 2019 and 2018 there were 50, 35 and 17 cases, respectively, said Nainda.

Other challenges are a lack of information in terms of tracing suspects, a lack of education relating to sexual and reproductive health when preventing unwanted pregnancies and baby dumping, and a lack of information on available options such as adoption, kinship and guardianship, etc, she said.

"Abortion is a complex crime in itself, as the intention of the perpetrator is to conceal the crime as a whole, including all evidence linked to the crime," she noted.

Nainda pointed out that the police have suggested an increased scope in deciding whether or not to have an abortion, and any amendments should consider various factors, such as improving access to family planning measures for girls and women of all ages.

Legislation should have continued action to prevent gender-based violence and gender inequality, which can lead to unwanted pregnancies, Nainda said.

The police figures are a far cry from those mentioned by Dr David Emvula at the hearing earlier this week. He revealed that in 2017, 7 000 unsafe abortions were recorded.

"From 1 April 2018 to March 2021, 14 Namibian women died as a result of abortive complications," he said.

Coordinator of the Gender Research and Advocacy Project at the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) Dianne Hubbard, said the LAC supports a law reform which expands freedom of choice with regards to abortion, in support of women's reproductive rights.

The current law does not prevent abortion but only restricts access to safe and legal abortion for women with the least resources, said Hubbard, adding that the decision to abort is a matter of personal conscience, which should not be mandated by law.

"Reform the law on abortion to allow more scope for physical and moral autonomy, but combine a liberalised law with comprehensive efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies and measures to make sure women do not feel pressured into abortions for the wrong reasons," she said.

Namibia needs better access to contraception and better information about contraception, she added, noting that Namibia should offer post-abortion counselling that includes information on contraceptives to prevent future unwanted pregnancies, as well as support women in situations of extreme poverty or gender-based violence.

"No one should have an abortion purely for economic reasons. Namibia needs a basic income grant which is the most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure the most vulnerable persons are not left out," Hubbard added.

Ombudsman Basilius Dyakugha said Namibia is a signatory to various international treaties that offer recommendations on the issue, including addressing the cumbersome process of having a legal abortion.

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