Young girls bear the brunt of unsafe abortions in Blantyre

Students, members of the public and activists discuss the need to enact Termination of Pregnancy law at Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences

Data from Blantyre District Health Office shows that the majority of people seeking post-abortion care are young girls.
Of the 2003 reported cases that were treated for post-abortion care from unsafe abortions in the last quarter of 2023, a staggering 1003 were under the age of 20, while 1000 were slightly over 20 years old.
Blantyre-based youth activist Rebecca Majamanda said the figures highlight the vulnerability of adolescent girls and young women to the risks associated with unsafe abortion practices, including severe health complications and death.
“The fact that over half of the individuals seeking abortion services are under the age of 20 is deeply troubling,” stated Majamanda. “It underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions to address the root causes driving young girls to resort to unsafe methods of terminating pregnancies.”
Speaking at a dialogue session on the Termination of Pregnancy Bill at the Malawi University of Business and Science (MUBAS), she pointed out that restrictive laws were fuelling unsafe abortion cases in Malawi.
She said peer pressure is one factor driving unplanned teenage pregnancies among most girls.
She also decried the increase in sexual assaults such as incest, defilement, and rape.
“There are many stories of male relatives who forcibly had sex with girl children they were staying with. When the girls fall pregnant as a result of rape, incest, or defilement, they are forced to have abortions in an unsafe way,” she said.
Gertrude Kapyepye, Youth Programme Coordinator for the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance, said they organised the dialogue meeting with students at MUBAS to unpack the magnitude of unsafe abortion in Malawi.

COPUA Legal Committee chairperson Mateyu Sisya said that the dialogue sessions created an opportunity to enlighten students and community members about what is in the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.
“The ultimate aim of the bill is that women and girls should not die from unsafe abortions. It is a bill that aims to reduce maternal deaths from unsafe abortions,” he said.
Reverend Cliff Nyekanyeka, Coordinator for Religious Network for Choice, said churches have different positions on the issue of abortion.
“Most churches allow their members to access safe abortion when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger. Others accept that women can access safe abortion when a woman or girl is raped or defiled,” he said.
The government, through the Law Commission, reviewed abortion laws and drafted the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill. Once enacted, the bill will expand the grounds under which women and girls in Malawi can access safe abortion.

Malawi continues to grapple with the burden of unsafe abortions. Research – by Malawi’s College of Medicine and Guttmacher Institute – shows that over 141,000 abortions happen in the southern African nation every year.
With a restrictive abortion law enacted by the colonialist in 1930s still intact in Malawi’s Penal Code, most abortions in Malawi are unsafe.
Currently, a consortium of civil society organisations, namely the Malawi Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance, the Malawi Human Rights Rehabilitation Centre, the Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation, the Centre for Solutions Journalism, and the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA), are sensitising various stakeholders about the need to enact a new Termination of Pregnancy Act.