International and local Christian groups are objecting to Kenya hosting the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) for its 25th anniversary, claiming that the event would promote abortion and homosexuality in the country. 

The three-day event, set to begin on Tuesday, 12, November 2019 in Nairobi, will be attended by leaders and delegates from around the world. And will address a variety of issues including infant – maternal mortality, child marriage, family planning, and female genital mutilation (FGM). 

However, the spiritual governing body of the Catholic Church, the Holy See, and other faith-based groups have zeroed in on sexual and reproductive health issues and policies set to be discussed and possibly adopted at the conference, saying that they do not represent the spirit of Africa’s predominant pro-life culture.

“The organizers’ decision to focus the conference on a few controversial and divisive issues that do not enjoy international consensus and that do not reflect accurately the broader population and development agenda outlined by the ICPD, is regrettable,” the Holy See said in a statement

Luis Losada of the ultraconservative advocacy group, CitizenGO said, “Africans are being blackmailed: if you want development aid, you have to embrace abortion.” He also stated that Kenya was receiving funding from the government of Denmark to co-host the event with the UNFPA.

In response to these criticisms, Arthur Erken, Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships, UNFPA, said, “This is a global summit, not a Kenyan summit. This is an important issue for women and girls and that is why we cannot shy away from these difficult issues. These are issues that need to be discussed … What to do with it afterwards is the sovereign right of every nation.”

According to the UNFPA, an estimated 232 million women in developing regions lack access to contraception for reasons ranging from lack of access to information or services to lack of support from their partners or communities. 

Globally, one in five girls is married before age 18. In the least developed countries, 40 percent of girls are married before age 18, and 12 percent before age 15. This year, it is estimated that 4.1 million girls are at risk of FGM. This number is projected to increase to 4.6 million girls by 2030 save efforts to end the practice are intensified.

At a press conference in Nairobi yesterday, Kenya’s Principal Secretary for State Department of Planning, Saitoti Torome emphasized that the ultimate goal of the conference is to protect human rights and save women’s lives with zero maternal deaths and harmful practices by 2030. This is in line with the ICPD Programme of Action which advocates that the full and equal participation of women in civil, cultural, economic, political and social life, at all levels, and the eradication of all forms of sexism, are priority objectives of the international community.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution permits safe abortion services when the life or health of a woman is in danger and in cases of emergency. Still, Kenyan women are persistently denied this service along with other essential reproductive health services. This has driven thousands of women and girls to seek care from quacks, thereby endangering their lives. 

According to a health report, an estimated 464,000 induced abortions occurred in Kenya in 2012(the most recent data available). One in four of these women and girls suffered complications such as high fever, sepsis, shock and organ failure. Recently, the country’s High Court established a landmark ruling that gives rape survivors the right to an abortion.  

Religious pro-life organizations need to understand the fundamental fact that women’s rights are human rights, including and especially their sexual and reproductive rights. Any belief, practice, or stance that polices or seeks to police the rights and freedom of women is an infringement on human rights. Hence, the need to address these “controversial and divisive issues”.

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