Saturday, February 20, 2010

Punishing Victims; Protecting Perpetrators

Several Christian organisations and churches in Kenya are claiming 'victory' because the draft constitution has been rewritten to specify that life begins at conception. They threatened to sabotage the whole constitution if this was not done. As a result of their threats, other clauses have also been removed. Kenyans will not now have a right to health care, in particular, reproductive health care. Also, the clause stating that no one may be refused emergency medical treatment has been removed. And there is a phrase that specifically rules out abortion unless the life of the mother is in danger.

Abortion is already illegal in Kenya, but this has not prevented several hundred thousand woman and girls seeking abortion every year. The majority of these abortions, an estimated 800 per day, are unsafe, being carried out in insanitary conditions by untrained personnel. Those who go through these unsafe abortions are less likely to seek professional medical attention and less likely to receive it. As a result, over 2000 die every year, adding considerably to the thousands of maternal deaths that occur.

In what sense have these Christian groups achieved a victory? They don't appear to be opposed to the fact that rape and forced sex often goes unpunished because it is carried out by the more powerful against the powerless. It is carried out by adults against young people, even children. Those who should protect the victims, church leaders, political leaders, teachers, police and others, are often the perpetrators.

If, as Christians are so fond of claiming, life is sacrosanct, why are the lives of certain people so unimportant? Why are human lives so unimportant as to be denied the right to health and the right to make their own reproductive decisions? Women should be able to choose when to have children, under what conditions and with whom. Where these rights have been denied, why should they be made to pay for someone else's crime?

Nothing that these Christians have done will reduce the incidence of unsafe abortions, of seriously compromised reproductive health for women, of women suffering and dying unnecessarily. Nothing that these Christians have done will reduce the incidence of rape and forced sex. Victims of crime should be entitled to protection, not punishment. Perpetrators of crime deserve punishment, especially when those perpetrators are in a position that gives them a level of power that they subsequently abuse.

One priest has said 'we should not victimise the innocent unborn children' but what about the woman or girl who has already been victimised and is now to be punished, perhaps for the rest of her life? Kenya is in dire need of good leadership and the interference of interested parties, whether they be political, religious, commercial or whatever else, is frustrating this need. The country also needs good health care and equal rights for all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, tribe, wealth and anything else. But some of the Christian churches clearly have other ideas.


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