Kenya’s High Court Rules in Favor of Woman Physically Abused During Delivery

(PRESS RELEASE) A pregnant woman who was unlawfully physically and verbally abused by hospital staff and deliberately left to deliver on the floor, today won a landmark case at the Bungoma High Court made possible with the support of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

High Court Judge Justice Abida Ali Aroni found that Bungoma County Hospital, the Bungoma County government and the Cabinet Secretary of Health had violated Josephine Majani’s human rights under both Kenya’s Constitution and international law when she gave birth at the hospital in 2013. She stated that Petitioner’s rights to health and dignity had been infringed upon by way of the physical and verbal abuses she suffered, in a manner that was inexcusable. Justice Ali Aroni added that the national and county government of Bungoma failed to ensure that healthcare facilities provide quality maternal healthcare services by neglecting to allocate the necessary resources and put in place minimum standards for provision of these services.

Approximately 8,000 Kenyan women die from pregnancy-related complications each year. Poor maternal health services are common in Kenya because of inadequate training and supervision of health care workers, negligence, and unethical practices.

Bungoma District Hospital is just one of many hospitals in Kenya that are ill-equipped to provide women with free maternal services and, as a result, deny them quality health care, and sometimes subject them to severe abuse.

“Josephine’s experience is not a lapse in judgement or temporary failure to provide an appropriate standard of care,” said Evelyne Opondo, Senior Regional Director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It is a systemic culture of institutionalized negligence towards women’s health, dignity and human rights, which seems to permeate the country’s health services at all levels.

“It is the duty of the government to ensure that all Kenyan women have access to quality reproductive health services guaranteed by Kenya’s own constitution.

 “This is a landmark case for Kenyan women. It sends a very clear message to Kenyan health providers, and to the county and national government authorities responsible for them, that neglect of Kenyan women in health care settings will no longer be tolerated—nor will it be without consequences for those responsible.” 

Josephine Majani’s treatment at the hands of staff at the Bungoma County Hospital received widespread media coverage when it occurred in 2013, in large part because evidence of the abuse was caught on camera by another patient.   

In August 2013, Josephine was admitted at the hospital for an induced labor. Despite a national directive instructing all public health care facilities to offer free maternity health care services as of June 1, 2013, Josephine had to purchase the medicine necessary to induce her labor. She was not physically checked or monitored by any of the nurses and was informed that if she needed medical attention she would have to walk from the labor ward to the delivery room herself.

When intense labor pains started, having called in vain for assistance, Josephine walked unaided to the delivery room where she discovered that all the beds were occupied. While attempting to return to her bed in the labor room, she collapsed and gave birth on the floor. On finding her there unconscious, two nurses repeatedly slapped and verbally abused Josephine in anger because she had dirtied the floor when she delivered her baby.  Once conscious, she was ordered to walk to the delivery room, still unaided, to be examined. She was released with her baby the following day, and suffered severe emotional trauma as a consequence of her treatment at the hands of uncaring staff.

“I was neglected, abused, and shamed during my time at Bungoma District Hospital,” said Josephine Majani. “I’m hopeful that the court’s judgement today will force the government to do the right thing and ensure that all women can get the maternal health care they need with respect and dignity.”

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 quality reproductive health care.

Despite Kenya’s 2010 Constitution—which explicitly states that every person has a right to the highest attainable standard of health including reproductive health—coupled with a 2013 directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta instructing all public health care facilities to offer free maternity health care services, abuses such as that experienced by Ms. Majani still persist.

The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to monitor the experiences of women seeking reproductive health services in Kenya and throughout the African continent, and will support women to seek legal redress and ensure governments meet their commitments, wherever needed.