Women who can’t get access to abortions in Kenya are feeding unwanted babies fizzy drinks instead of breast milk, human rights activists have warned. The African country is in the grip of an infanticide ‘crisis’, as mothers seek horrific ways to get rid of unwanted children after they’re born. Common methods include feeding babies with fizzy drinks such as cola or ginger beer as an alternative to milk, causing their organs to collapse. Aid workers say they have also witnessed a rise in babies being left to die in rubbish dumps or rivers.
The stories highlight the plight of women who can’t afford to raise a family in a country where abortion is illegal and poverty is on the rise, human rights activists say. Vincent Odhiambo, a human rights activist in Kibera, a city slum, said: ‘Some women are not in a position to have a family. It is known that if you give a baby Coca-Cola, it will die. ‘You can imagine giving a small baby Coca-Cola instead of breast milk – it can’t last more than three days.’ Infanticide is not a new phenomenon in Kenya, but a series of grim discoveries in recent months has laid bare the scale of the crisis.
Over a single week in May, the corpses of eight infants were pulled from the Nairobi River’s waters which are bursting with rubbish. Wilson Cheptoo, a rubbish sorter, said he finds 15 dead children a year on the dump where he plies his trade. Such tragic discoveries are not unusual among his colleagues, he said. Florence, a government midwife, told the Telegraph reporter she had a series of pictures on her mobile phone of dead babies found on such dumps. Residents told her one baby, a tiny girl found in the fetal position, had died after being fed a deadly dose of Coca-Cola by her mother. However while aid workers are all too familiar with these tragic stories, murder on such a calculated, prolonged scale is unusual. More common than infanticide and abandonment, activists say, is backstreet abortions carried out by unqualified medics.
Abortion is illegal in Kenya unless a mother’s health is in danger. As well as murdering infant with fizzy drinks , abandonment and back street abortions are rife. Anyone who carries out an ‘unauthorised’ procedure is threatened with a 14-year prison sentence, though often the punishment is far worse. In 2014, a Kenyan nurse was sentenced to death after being found guilty of carrying out an abortion on a woman who later bled to death. Horror stories of unethical abortions are rife as most qualified doctors are unwilling to take the risk. A common method is carrying out abortions on women in late pregnancy by inducing labour, delivering a living baby and then killing it. Caroline Otera, a community mobiliser for Marie Stopes, a women’s health charity, knows of one pharmacist in Dandora, near Mathare, who offered such services. ‘He makes you deliver a kid and then he kills the kid,’ she said.
‘The delivery is done into a bucket of cold water and he kills the baby with a hammer blow to the head.’ The women often die too in this scenario. A pro-choice demonstration in Belfast. Campaigns to decriminalise abortion are heating up around the world (Picture: Getty) Ms Otera said the clinic was shut down by the police after it allegedly killed a prominent human rights activist in a botched abortion. However, activists fear there are likely to be far more still operating beyond the eyes of the authorities. Official statistics on infanticide are not published in Kenya, so such stories are usually anecdotal. Activists say while there is no excuse for murdering babies, the broader context of what leads to infanticide must be understood to tackle the crisis.
There has been a shortfall in maternal health clinics since funding from the US plummeted under Donald Trump administration. In 2017, he introduced a ‘global gag rule’ which meant that any organisation offering so much as advice on abortion is barred from American aid. Funding for maternal health clinics offering abortion advice has dropped under the Trump administration (Picture:PA) As a result, Family Health Options Kenya – one of the few clinics offering such support – had to eliminate free outreach services and close two clinics. But activists and doctors say the pro-life lobby’s opposition to abortion is not stopping it from happening and is in fact putting more women in danger by leading them to have unsafe abortions.
Marie Stopes estimate 350,000 Kenyan women a year will risk having an unsafe abortion, seven of whom die every day. The United Nations say roughly 40 per cent of all pregnancies in Kenya are unwanted, while nearly one in five teenage girls is or has been pregnant, the country’s ministry of health say. Surveys show that 59.3 per cent of unmarried, s3xually active adolescent girls do not have access to contraception. But as well as conservative beliefs, poverty has been linked to high teen pregnancies, with young girls often encouraged to have s3x with local shopkeepers in exchange for bread.