The case of the Maputo Protocol for Tanzania

Black pregnant woman suffering from labor pains at home, copy space. African expecting lady having childbirth labor while sitting alone on sofa at home, child delivery concept. Courtesy of Dreamstime

What you need to know:

  • Maternal and reproductive health and rights continue to be talk all over the globe. The Maputo protocol has helped AU countries make positive steps forward in promoting women’s rights

No matter how hard she tries, Julie Kaira* cannot stop herself from feeling the overwhelming shame that came as a result of the rape that she endured at the hands of her biological father, in his matrimonial house at that.
Although this took place three decades ago, she still shudders every time she recalls that unfortunate turn of events.
Julie, now 42-years-old was raped at the age of 13. She says that it was normal to find her father at home during working days but little did she know that he was capable of being vile enough to rape his own daughter.
One day, on a Tuesday afternoon when she came back from school, her father asked her to go to the bedroom right as she walked in through the door. Without knowing her father’s intentions, she simply obeyed and did as instructed.
When she knocked on the bedroom door, her father asked her to quickly get inside the room quickly saying he had an emergency.
Upon entering the room, she was quickly grabbed by force, dropped on the bed, told to keep quiet and instructed to tell nobody, not even her own mother, of what he did to her.
“I remember my father’s voice,” she narrates. “He said to me ‘don’t tell your mum or your friends at school but when the time comes, I will tell your mum myself’ and I had to obey.”
She was in a dilemma as days, weeks and months went on without seeing her monthly period and eventually, she decided to tell her mother.
According to her, since then, she has never seen her mother and when she wanted to tell anyone else, she felt scared because she believed she would lose her loved ones.
She thought about terminating the pregnancy.
She felt helpless and thought how the community would look at her.
Julie says a week later, her aunt from her home village, Sumbawanga, came and took her to the village where she was given traditional medicine to terminate the pregnancy.
Sadly, Julie’s case is not uncommon in Tanzania.
Many girls fall pregnant at the hands of rapist, many of whom are usually people they know and trust.
For many of these unfortunate girls, a clandestine abortion is the only alternative to carrying the pregnancy to term and raising a baby she did not ask for.

The Maputo Protocol
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, is an international human rights instrument established by the African Union that went into effect in 2005.
It guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, improved autonomy in their reproductive health decisions, and an end to female genital mutilation.
It was adopted by the African Union in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2003 in the form of a protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (adopted in 1981, enacted in 1986).
Of the African Union countries that have signed and ratified, Tanzania finds itself amongst the list thus the country is expected implement the Maputo Protocol agreement in accordance with the right to health and reproductive rights which provides for the right to procure an abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother.
However, abortion is still illegal and as a result, girls like Julie find themselves resorting to clandestine, back alley pregnancy terminations that put their lives at risk.
Tanzania being a founding member of African Union (AU) and having ratified the Maputo agreement, stands to have reduced the high numbers of unsafe abortion and maternal mortality death in the country if it chose implement article 14 section c of the agreement.
According to data, Tanzania has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios; 556 per 100,000 lives birth, and unsafe abortion is one of its leading causes.
Unsafe abortions account for more than one-third of hospitalisations for complications related to pregnancy and roughly one-quarter of maternal deaths.
The Maputo protocol protects the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus but, the laws and policies on abortion in Tanzania are ambiguous and often confusing.
The penal code is broadly understood and an abortion is only authorised to save a woman’s life, but is unclear about whether the procedure is legal to preserve the woman’s physical or mental health.
The fear of prosecution, prevalent among women and health care providers alike, drives women to seek clandestine abortions that are often unsafe.
Independent advocate Mr Baraka Thomas, expressed that even though the country domesticated the agreement 2007 unfortunately, article 14 section C has not been implemented in accordance.
Health and legal experts advised the government to amend the penal code of section 230 so that it meets all criteria specified in article 14 of the Maputo protocol related to reproductive health.
This will help women and girls with maternal health complications avoid clandestine abortions, receive appropriate health services and reduce the high risk of unsafe abortions and maternal mortality deaths in the country.
Explaining on the Maputo agreement, advocate Baraka stressed that despite Tanzania having ratified the convention, it has not yet met the health reproductive standard set in the agreement.
According to him, the agreement has given women the right to get authorised medical abortion in the case of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus.
Article 14 of the Maputo agreement on reproductive health encourages reproductive health awareness on abortion on the grounds of rape and sexual abuse by relatives.
He cited other African countries that ratified the Maputo agreement and implemented it in accordance include Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
However, Director of Reproductive and Child Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr Ahmad Makuwani explained to Your Health that some member states of AU who ratified the Maputo protocol agreed to implement some of the articles while putting other articles on reservation.
“We did ratify and domesticate the convention (Maputo) as well as began to implement it but, we put abortion on reservation and that is why we impose heavy punishment to people who are convicted of rape and abortion,” he explained.
According to him, Tanzania has been implementing its laws and policies but it is unfortunate that the laws interfere with norms, traditions and culture.
He says most of the time when a person is raped or impregnated by a close family member, several victims decide to settle the matter at household level.
A study, conducted by researchers at the USA-based Guttmacher Institute and Tanzania’s National Institute for Medical Research and Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) found that an estimated 405,000 abortions were performed in the country in 2013, the vast majority of which were clandestine procedures that put women’s well-being at risk.
Because of an abortion law that is both highly restrictive and ambiguous, Tanzanian women generally seek clandestine abortions that are unsafe.
The researchers, who conducted surveys of health facilities and health professionals and reviewed population and fertility data, estimate that 66,600 women received post-abortion care in health facilities for complications resulting from unsafe abortions in 2013.
However, almost 100,000 women who experienced complications did not receive the medical attention they needed. These findings, the researchers hope, will help inform Tanzania’s ongoing efforts to decrease its maternal mortality ratios, which remain among the highest in the world.
According to earlier reports, from Solidarity of African Women Rights (SOAWAR) The AU’s aspirations for universal ratification of the Maputo Protocol by all 55 member states by the end of 2020 were not realized.
SOAWAR further urges member states who have ratified the protocol to ensure that ratification translates into meaningful enjoyment of every right by women and girls in Africa.
Some of the countries that have not ratified the protocol include Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Morocco, Niger, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan.
Until all states have ratified the protocol without reservation, women and girls’ rights across Africa will remain at risk.

1. Harmful traditional practices, e.g. child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) - In many African communities, FGM and child marriages have been the norm. The Maputo protocol has been instrumental in helping end these practices.
2. Reproductive health and rights - The protocol has helped shed light on the need for women’s awareness on their reproductive health and rights.
3. Roles in political processes
4. Economic empowerment
5. Ending violence against women - The protocol has helped set workable grounds for means to end violence against women.