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U.N. Committee: Malawi Should Expand Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, Address Reproductive Rights Violations

(PRESS RELEASE) The government of Malawi should implement laws and policies to expand access to safe and legal abortion, as well as address reproductive rights violations including child marriage and sexual violence, according to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (U.N. CEDAW).

The U.N. CEDAW recommendations call for Malawi to amend its abortion law to legalize safe abortion services when there is a risk to the health or life of the pregnant woman, in cases of rape and incest, and cases of severe fetal impairments—as well as ensuring its legal and practical availability without restrictive reporting requirements. U.N. CEDAW also noted the “high prevalence of harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation…” and urged Malawi to effectively implement existing laws and policies prohibiting these illegal practices, provide access to justice for survivors of these abuses and adequately punish all perpetrators.

In the last three years, the Malawi government has enacted laws and policies to address a range of human rights issues including child marriage, gender inequality and human trafficking. There is legislation pending in Parliament that would expand access to safe and legal abortion.

“No woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy following sexual assault or when her life or health is in danger,” said Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The government of Malawi should follow the lead of more than 35 countries worldwide that have expanded access to safe and legal abortion. It’s time for Parliament to pass an abortion law that will protect women’s fundamental reproductive rights.”

Abortion in Malawi is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison, however only allowed if a health provider determines the pregnancy endangers a woman’s life. The current restrictive law has led to 70,000 Malawian women seeking unsafe abortion each year.

The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a letter to U.N. CEDAW raising concerns over a number of human rights violations affecting women and girls, including child marriage, maternal mortality and morbidity, lack of access to contraception, unsafe abortion, sexual violence, sexuality education and retention of girls in school. 

In its recommendations to Malawi, U.N. CEDAW noted the high number of teenage pregnancies and lack of comprehensive and age appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights and family planning services, as well as limited access to modern contraceptives. The recommendations call for

  • Reducing maternal deaths and pregnancy-related injuries by ensuring provision of adequate sexual and reproductive health services, in particular access to antenatal, delivery and postnatal services including in rural areas.
  • Addressing the high number of adolescent pregnancies by ensuring access to age-appropriate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights for girls and boys, including out-of-school children;
  • Ensuring the availability and accessibility of modern forms of contraception and reproductive services to all women.

Additional recommendations by U.N. CEDAW include enacting laws and policies to tackle violence against women, including domestic violence, criminalize marital rape, provide adequate support services and access to justice for sexual assault survivors.

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.

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