This widely reported account by a young Cameroonian girl identified simply as "Lina" tells a story identical with the experience of thousands of young girls everyday in Sub-Saharan Africa:
Lina, tells the story of a young friend of hers who became pregnant a few years ago and was deserted by her boyfriend. Lina says that she suggested that her friend should tell her mother she was pregnant. But Lina's friend was simply horrified at the thought of talking to her mother, a christian, that she had become pregnant before marriage. Lina's friend finally decides to get an abortion. She arranges to go out of town to a place recommended by their peers, where they could get an abortion cheap and quick and where it was unlikely she would meet any one who knows her.
Abortion is illegal in Cameroon so, as one might expect, she lands in a "hospital" managed by a"doctor" who prescribes some "black pills" for Lina's friend. Lina's friend takes the pill and two days later Lina gets a distress call from her friend with the news that she had been bleeding for two days and losing a lot of blood.
Lina rushes to her friends whom she meets sitting on a pail because she was bleeding so profusely. The two friends go back to see the "doctor." He prescribes another pill and the bleeding stops. Bu life threatening complications develop, Lina's friend is forced to go to a proper clinic where it is discovered that she had a set of twins in her. The abortionist had only managed to abort one of the two and the second, apparently dead, was still in her womb. A proper surgery was done and the second removed.
Another Cameroonian girl Rachel, 20, says that when she got pregnant she had to go to a backstreet abortion clinic for the reason that she wished to continue her education and her boyfriend could only afford to give her $10, just enough to cajole the "abortionist" to do an abortion. The doctor who performed the operation was not a licensed professional.
According to Rachel:
The doctor asked me to undress and lie on a table. After an examination, he inserted a metal object into my vagina. He didn't give me any aesthetic – he just began removing things from my body. After the procedure, he gave me some tablets to cause the remaining fetal parts to eventually discharge…I didn't see anything, but felt a pulling sensation…The pain was unbearable, but I subdued my screams. I did not allow myself to convey my pain.
The two case are typical of millions of young girls in African countries. In Cameroon, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape and/or situations of grave risk to the mother's health. Yet these severe legal restrictions do not satisfy the Catholic authorities who think there should never be any grounds at all for abortion.
In July 2009 the Catholic Church organized about 20,000 Cameroonians in a protest march against Cameroon's ratification of the Maputo Protocol which led to the legalization of abortion in "cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy is determined to put the mother's physical or psychological health in danger." The Catholic Church organized protest march was led by Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, with many of the protesters carrying placards which messages such as: "abortion is an abomination," and "do not legalize sin." An inter-religious delegation of Catholics, Protestants and Muslims delivered a letter to President Paul Biya with 30,000 signatures asking for an end to the "legalization of abortion."
Archbishop of Douala Archdiocese, Samuel Kleda, said in a homily after the march:
We are in agreement with this praiseworthy project (of protecting women). Who can remain indifferent to the suffering of a woman? At the same time, we cannot pretend to defend women by proposing that they have an abortion and use contraception, which threatens their dignity and nuclear family. No reason can be used to justify abortion or infanticide…
A leading local politician, Chief A.S. Ngwana, leader of the Cardinal Democratic Party (CDP), and prominent leader in the protest against the Maputo Protocol said he was willing to undertake a nationwide campaign against the Maputo Protocol because, in his understanding, legalizing abortion was "a ploy from the West to check the African population."
While politicians and religious leaders, who are mostly male, and thus, significantly insulated from the horrors of the experience of young African girls dominate the public forum in which they are free to rail unchallenged against the advocates of legalization of abortion, the professionals out in the field who really get to see the carnage which is the consequence of driving the abortion industry underground continue to tell anyone who will listen the folly of politicians trying to keep the nation from "sinning against God" in their opposition to legalization of abortion.
According to the laws made by religious principle motivated parliamentarians in Cameroon:
Anyone who performs an illegal abortion is subject to one to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 2 million Central African CFA francs, $220 USD to $4,380 USD. Penalties are doubled for medical professionals who perform illegal abortions, and they may be prohibited from continuing to practice medicine. A woman who procures or consents to her own abortion is subject to imprisonment for 15 days to one year and/or a fine of 5,000 to 200,000 Central African CFA francs, $11 USD to $440 USD.
According to Dr. Okwen Patrick, a medical Doctor in northwestern Cameroon, young girls use the services of illegal backstreet operators regularly, in spite of the grave risks to their health and the risk of legal penalties. According to Dr. Okwen Patrick, in-spite of parliamentarians congratulating themselves for enacting laws preventing "sin of abortion against God," any young girl in Cameroon can get "an abortion within a very short time and at three times less the cost of what it would cost them in the recognized clinics…In clinics, abortion procedures usually cost about $60 USD, but in backstreet clinics it costs $20 USD."
Dr. Patrick gives an indication of the size of the underground abortion industry in Cameroon with the information that in his professional practice he encounters about 10 girls in need of post-abortion care a week after obtaining abortions from illegal backstreet operators:
The are rushed to the hospital with post-abortion infections, anemia, scar tissue or adhesions, continuous pain, a torn cervix or perforated colon, high fevers, stinking discharges and excessive bleeding that could lead to death. He says these complications are a result of the nonprofessional tools – knitting needles, clothes hangers, scissors and other equipment – pushed into the uterus of desperate women who prefer anything to the continued pregnancy.
Irene Ndema another medical professional at the Cameroon National Association for Family Welfare (Cameroon's leading leading sexual and reproductive health services provider) says that in her work she has encountered evidence of high fatality rates among girls using the services of illegal backstreet operators and that they are inundated with cases of girls who come to seek qualified professional help only after things have gone really awry at the backstreet clinic.
According to Irene, the girls prefer to risk their lives in using backstreet abortion clinics because in the cultural and economic climate, keeping a child born outside marriage is not a valid option for most. Irene says:
For those who cannot afford backstreet abortion clinics or are too ashamed to visit them, they drink detergents or dozens of sachet[s] [of] whiskey to get rid of the pregnancy if it is still in the first trimester
According to Irene what complicates the bad situation is the conservative cultural climate which not only condemns abortion and then contradicts itself by insisting on withholding information from girls about the use of contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. The Catholic Church in Cameroon insists that abortion is sinful even in cases of rape and incest and yet complicates the situation hopelessly for most young girls by saying, at the same time, that contraception is also sinful!
Irene said that she saw the light concerning the contradictory standards of the church when during an HIV-sensitization campaign in which free condoms were being distributed, a young girl approached her for advice and information but she refused her service because she felt she was too young to be seeking family planning information and service, but when much later the girl returned with a two-month-old pregnancy she realized for the firs-time the need for unhindered access of young girls to sexual and reproductive health services. But Irene regrets that sex education is a taboo subject in the average Cameroonian Christian home.
How long will it take for African legislators to see the light and understand that the need for sex education and legalization of abortion in Africa goes beyond mere unthinking adherence to supposedly traditional Christian values?
Meanwhile the carnage continues and according to the church it is the Lord's will…