Making war on the African child

Nigerian delegate Bene Madunagu (R) at UN women's meeting 2000Barack Obama has begun delivering on his campaign promises by lifting the Mexico City policy, releasing about US$700 million United States taxpayers’ money for funding population control groups that advocate and provide abortion, with promises to increase it to US$1billion.

After eight years under the Bush administration of the “global gag rule” against US support for abortion overseas, there is euphoria among funds starved non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as they scramble back to their feet. The “gag” has been fingered as the cause of the birth of many unwanted African children.

Nigeria might be among the first to be bought with Obama’s money because its government has recently set up a commission to review the nation’s laws. The Nigerian constitution affirms the right to life. In line with this there is a criminal code operating in the southern part of the country (predominantly Christian) and a penal code operating in the Muslim north, both of which contain provisions criminalizing permissive abortion.

Abortion lobby groups have besieged the Nigerian city of Abuja, paying as much as $300 a night at expensive hotels; stalking members of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission (NLRC) with the objective of persuading them to strike out anti-abortion provisions. An article in a Nigerian newspaper reports congratulatory massages sent by abortion NGOs to each other, while Nigerian feminists are thanking Obama for releasing the money and promising fast action and value for money.

Luckily for them, some African ruling cabals, experts at cooking up election results, do not see any need to consult their citizens directly -- unlike their European counterparts -- by using the plebiscite or referendum in deciding constitutional questions. A committee of politicians and lawyers reviewing the criminal code remains the target of intense lobbying by abortion groups.

Illegal abortions

The legal sanctions against abortion are, admittedly, difficult to enforce, partly due to complicity in the crime by police officers (adultery is rampant in the barracks) as well as the legislators and political office holders who often pay for their mistresses to “do it” to avoid problems with their wives. According to Dr Ambrose, a resident doctor at a hospital in one of the poorer districts in the south east, “Nigeria has a high rate of abortion.” He further claims that one of every two women patients of his has an abortion history; either from an adulterous relationships or the desire to avoiding the stigma of having a child outside wedlock. He has yet to meet any that had an abortion because of rape, which is one of the few grounds on which abortion is permitted.

A doctor friend who once performed the gruesome procedure known as partial-birth abortion told me how it precipitated his conversion. A handsome young woman had an affair with a military man, but Mr Colonel would not accept his responsibilities. She could not face the consequences: men would laugh and she could not live with the embarrassment.

Ultrasound examination showed a male child nearly 25weeks old whom the doctor proceeded to kill. The head could not be collapsed to pass through the cervix so he cut it off at the neck. However, extracting the severed head proved complicated, and the woman died two days later, hemorrhaging uncontrollably from a ruptured colon as a result of pieces of her child’s skull left in her womb. Welcome to the “developed” world of reproductive health, Nigeria.

Illegal abortions and their often fatal or tragic consequences for the mother (as well as the child) are a lever for groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International to advance the cause of legalization under the banner of “safe abortion”.

When Nigeria reported to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) last July, the delegation said that 25 per cent of all pregnancies were unwanted, with half ending in abortion. Delegates were quizzed on what the government was doing “to reduce the number of deaths in connection with unsafe abortions” and about “barriers to the provision of reproductive health and family planning services.” Unfortunately, too many African politicians and people on the make buckle under this pressure, and the pressure is mounting thanks to the work of powerful NGOs like the Civil Resource Development and Documentation
Centre (CIRDDOC) Nigeria
, which boasts a full time staff strength of 21, 2 interns and 3 volunteers.

In spite of the widespread recourse to abortion -- especially among adolescent and unmarried women -- there is no doubt that Nigeria’s legal ban helps in prodding the consciences of those who have done it, reminds the would-be culprits that it is wrong and explains why abortion remains anathema among the majority of Nigerians.

Government already implicated

The government, however, goes its own way. It has ratified the Maputo Protocol, a women’s rights addition to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which contains an article guaranteeing 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". It has also signed a 2007 follow-up document for the “Operationalisation of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights 2007-2010”. The mention of “unsafe abortion” in these documents implies an obligation on states to provide “safe”, that is, legal, abortion.

The Nigerian government also recognises and gives material support to the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), which is part of IPPF -- an organisation committed to global abortion rights. The Nigerian federation defines its strategic plan as involving five areas: Adolescents and young people, HIV and AIDS, Abortion, Access and Advocacy. PPFN counts among its partners the Central Bank of Nigeria, and gets funding from the UN Development Programme and the Global Fund for AIDS -- among others.

Much of this support is officially focused on AIDS, but a major aim of PPFN and partner NGOs is the “integration of HIV/AIDS with reproductive health”. In other words, by insisting that condoms are central to fighting AIDS, the “reproductive health” groups can get Africans used to the idea of contraception. And “safe abortion” as a back-up, of course.

Can we save the African child?

One way or another the Western NGOs leading the war on African fertility are determined to push their agenda through. With the approval of the new (black) President of the United States and his administration, their task has suddenly become much easier.

But the anti-abortion groups are not leaving anything to chance, according to Justina Offiah, a senior advocate of Nigeria and a member of Happy Home Foundation (HHF), a family advocacy group based in Enugu: “We are adopting a proactive rather than a reactive one. We don’t intend to wait for the government to legalize permissive abortion in Nigeria and then start trying to reverse it, since that would be more difficult, we have therefore mobilized ourselves, going to Universities, families and other institutions, to get the signatures of millions of Nigerian who are against abortions. The response has been overwhelming."

In a bid to counter the international pressure for legalizing abortion, the African Anti-Abortion Coalition (AAAC) launched it’s the Save the African Child mission in February 2007, with the support of Christian and Islamic groups, as well as some secular organizations. After African Union health ministers signed up to the Maputo action plan in April 2007, the AAAC coalition lobbied the G8 and state legislatures to exclude abortion from their plans.

In a letter to Nigerian senators Dr Philip C. Njemanze, executive chairman of the coalition, called for the Senate to “come up with a strong statement to condemn international organizations that violate the Nigerian constitution protecting the sanctity of Life” and recommended the expulsion of pro-abortion advocates from Nigeria. According to his website, he is still waiting for a reply from 99 per cent of them.

Nigerians who are alert to the dangers to the unborn child and the family are lone rangers with lean purses and certainly cannot match the resources of the abortion groups. But they are crying wolf in the pages of local newspapers with the hope that exposing the plot of the abortion promoters will help to foil it.

Chinwuba Iyizoba is an electrical engineer in Enugu, Nigeria


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