KENYA – Aim: to translate a Kenyan film about having an abortion into law

Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris and Suba North Member of Parliament Millie Odhiambo attended the premiere of ‘Prayer For The Departed’, a Kenyan film based on the true story of a 14-year-old school girl who was raped and died after a botched abortion. The film premiered at Prestige Cinema in mid-March. It is based on the life and death of JMM, who was raped, tried to obtain a backstreet abortion from a local quack, was denied lifesaving hospital care at government facilities, and eventually died of kidney failure.

Speaking at the premiere, Esther Passaris said: “Nobody gets pregnant to have an abortion. People get pregnant through a myriad of circumstances, and this movie has shown just how complex the issue is. We have so much work to do to educate society on the need to protect girls from rape and other forms of sexual violations. We need more men to stand up against rape.”

Passaris also announced plans to unveil the first government-owned safe house for victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Nairobi. “We look forward to naming the first government-owned safehouse in memory of JMM,” she said.

Millie Odhiambo said she had introduced a comprehensive bill in parliament that will guide public hospitals on how to handle reproductive health complications resulting from sexual and gender-based violence and will be linked to the Sexual Offences Act.

Nick Smith, Executive Producer of the film said it was an opportunity to humanise and put flesh and blood to court judgments that often sound technical and abstract, but have real people’s lives behind them. “JMM died three years after she was raped and sought out an unsafe abortion. She died after suffering from kidney problems for three years in a healthcare system that stigmatized her and depleted her family’s meagre financial resources. She died while her case was still going on in court. Her story is not unique, but we hope that through this story, the High Court ruling based on her story will finally be implemented by the Ministry of Health,” he said.

In the 2019 ruling, the High Court found that the Director of Medical Services and the Ministry of Health had violated the rights of Kenyan women and girls by arbitrarily withdrawing the standards and guidelines for reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions in Kenya.

Odhiambo added: “When people don’t see real-life situations, they will argue from an academic perspective. They will read the Bible for us like we are not Christians ourselves. But we see real-life situations daily. The proposed law is named “Family Reproductive Healthcare Bill” because, as you have seen in the movie, this issue affected every member of her family, not just the girl.”

SOURCE: Nairobi Wire, by Richard Kamau, 31 March 2023 + PHOTO by Négès Mawon