Piercing Review of Kenya’s Reproductive Health Services

In May 2013, the Committee against Torture conducted its periodic review of the human rights situation in Kenya, assessing the country's compliance with the United Nations Convention against Torture. During its review process, the committee took into consideration information included in a shadow letter submitted by the Center for Reproductive Rights), which focused on two important themes concerning Kenyan women's ongoing lack of access to reproductive health services..

The first addressed the fact that Kenyan women who seek maternal health services are regularly detained and abused when they are unable to pay their medical bills. Despite ongoing efforts by the Center to draw attention to and eradicate the practice, it remains widespread in Kenya.

The second issue highlighted the continued criminalization of abortion in cases of sexual violence, such as rape and incest, and the barriers to access to abortion Kenyan women experience even when the procedure is legal, due to a lack of clarity in Kenya's laws. Although the Constitution of Kenya was amended in 2010 to allow for abortion when the health of the woman is at risk, situations involving sexual violence such as rape and incest were not included in the amendment. Compounding the problem, the Penal Code has yet to be amended to reflect the change in the constitution, and other than to save a woman's life-the sole exception to the criminalization of abortion which was originally provided under the penal code—l;abortion remains a criminal offense. The ongoing confusion surrounding Kenya's abortion laws creates uncertainty among abortion providers and women, and leads some providers to refuse to perform legal abortions.

The committee posed several questions to the Kenyan government delegation based on the Center's letter. In its concluding observations, the committee urged the government to:

  • end the practice of forcibly detaining women after they give birth when they are unable to pay the medical bill, including in private health facilities;
  • amend legislation to grant women who have been subjected to rape or incest the right to an abortion without this being subject to a medical professional's discretion;
  • evaluate the effects on women's health of the country's restrictive legislation on abortion and ensure that the applicable laws and policies are made clear.

The Center welcomes the Committee's recommendations and urges the Kenyan government to prioritize implementation of these changes to improve the sexual and reproductive health of women and adolescent girls.