Jamaica urged to reconsider abortion laws for cases of rape, incest

Nadine Wilson

Monday, October 01, 2012

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THE United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has asked Jamaica to reconsider the criminalisation of abortion in cases where a pregnancy is a result of a rape or incest or in cases where it poses a threat to a mother's health and life.


Abortion is currently a criminal act under sections 72 and 73 of the Offences Against the Persons Act, but the committee, which met with representatives from Jamaica during its 52nd session in New York recently, said it was concerned about the inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health care services in the island which contributed to high incidences of teenage and unwanted pregnancies.


The committee said it was concerned that abortion is wholly illegal according to the Act, which does not make a distinction in cases of pregnancies resulting from rape, incest and threats to a mother's health and life. Abortions incur severe penalties, the committee argued, and there is a lack of data on the incidence of unsafe abortions and the link to high infant and maternal mortality rates. It further recommended that Jamaica, "Remove punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortions."


The Jamaican delegation which appeared before CEDAW pointed out that the parliamentary committee that was convened to look at the possible amendment to the existing legislation has not yet been able to reach a decision. The committee was developed after a draft bill was formulated by an advisory committee on abortions in 2010, following consultations with the wider public about the decriminalisation of abortion.


Although the committee commended Jamaica for the implementation of strategies to strengthen access to health care, it also expressed concern that there was no data showing women's access to primary and secondary health care services and that there was slow progress in reducing maternal mortality. The committee said it also noted a growing trend to feminise HIV, and there was a disproportionately higher number of women living with the disease.


However, delegates representing the country pointed to a Declaration of Commitment that was signed by former prime minister Bruce Golding and the current prime minister Portia Simpson Miller in April 2011, to eliminate stigma and discrimination and gender inequality affecting the HIV response in Jamaica. They also pointed to numerous successes over the pass few years in the fight to reduce HIV and AIDS cases.


One of the recommendations from the committee is that Jamaica strengthens the monitoring and data collection on women's access to health care. The committee also suggested that there be free and adequate access to contraceptives so as to improve the access and quality of sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls.


One area of focus, the committee pointed to in going forward, is to undertake a large scale awareness-raising campaign to promote education on sexual and reproductive health and rights. This, they said, will assist in the reduction of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.


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