CRR Case on Unlawful Detention of Women in Maternity Hospitals in the High Court of Kenya

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(PRESS RELEASE) Today the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case before the High Court of Kenya on behalf of two women who were illegally detained in Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi for their inability to provide full payment for maternal health services they received.

In the petition to the constitutional division of the High Court of Kenya, the Center is holding the hospital—as well as the Attorney General, Minister for Local Government, City Council of Nairobi, and Minister for Medical Services—accountable for the ill treatment of the two women, including human rights violations under Kenya’s constitution and international law.

“Illegally detaining women in health care facilities because they are unable to pay their medical fees is an egregious violation of women’s fundamental rights to health and freedom,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Providing women with affordable, accessible, and safe health services is a key obligation of the government of Kenya, and the Center is filing this case so that all women—no matter their socioeconomic status—are able to receive the necessary health care they deserve without fear of being imprisoned,” added Northup.

The two women, Margaret and Maimuna, were both mistreated during their stays at Pumwani Maternity Hospital. Margaret had two traumatic experiences at the hospital. On her first visit, she was illegally detained for 12 days after giving birth and soon after returned to the hospital complaining of stomach pains, leading to an additional surgery to remove the scissors that were left in her stomach after her caesarian. A public clinic sent Margaret to Pumwani Maternity Hospital a second time because her baby was in a breech position. She was detained for 6 days again after giving birth and ended up with a ruptured bladder due to the medical staff leaving her unattended and bleeding on a bench for more than two hours before performing a caesarian.

On her first of two visits to Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Maimuna was detained for 20 days following her delivery. She had to sleep on a cold floor next to a flooding toilet with one bed sheet and a thin blanket. She ended up catching pneumonia in the hospital and, worse, the health of one of her children deteriorated because no one was able to look after Maimuna’s children full-time during her detention.

“My time at Pumwani Maternity Hospital felt like I was in a prison, where I was verbally abused and mistreated,” said Maimuna. “No one deserves this type of treatment and I hope the High Court acknowledges that the hospital violated our human rights and orders the hospital to make policy changes to ensure that women are no longer held hostage when they can’t pay their bills in full.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than a decade across the continent of Africa to advance women’s access to reproductive health care through law and policy reform. In 2007, the Center and the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya released the report Failure to Deliver: Violations of Women's Human Rights in Kenyan Health Facilities, documenting how Kenya’s health care sector suffers from systemic and widespread problems that deny women high quality reproductive health care. This is the first case the Center is filing in the country and the first time that the High Court will hear a case on the detainment of women in maternity hospitals.

“Very few formal channels exist to provide redress for the serious human rights violations taking place in both public and private hospitals throughout Kenya,” said Judith Okal, Acting Regional Director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We implore the High Court of Kenya to remedy the rights violations Margaret and Maimuna endured and to implement systematic changes in all hospitals so women’s rights are always protected when they seek essential health care services.”