“Dumped babies are just the tip of the iceberg”: the consequences of curbingreproductive rights

It’s a hot mid-August morning, and Lydia Wambui’s bright green overallsare soaked. She’s standing knee-deep in Nairobi River, using a metal rod tocatch rubbish lazily flowing down its murky waters. “Sewage, bottle-tops, needles– people chuck everything in here,” she says. “We also keep finding babies.”

Two months earlier, the37-year-old volunteer spotted a blue plastic bag amongst the garbage. Sheimmediately felt anxious: “You have to open it even though you fear what you’llfind.”

Inside was what she believed tobe a recently aborted fetus, several syringes and blood-stained cotton wool.“I’m a mum, I have two kids,” she explains. “It hurts.”

In one 350-metre section, nine fetusesand newborns have been found this year by this clean-up team. After police saidthe parents could not be identified, the team buried the babies – including twosets of twins – in a makeshift grave.

This week severalthousand people are in Nairobi for the International Conference on Populationand Development (ICPD). The original event, 25 years ago, kick-started theglobal movement to recognise reproductive rights ashuman rights. And speakers touted huge gains in global access tocontraception, health services and areduction in maternal deaths.

Yet theNairobi riverbanks tell a story of unfinished business. On Tuesday, the firstmorning of the summit, the Komb Green Solutions team found their ninth body: ababy boy floating down Nairobi river.Thisyear, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko asked police chiefs and county officials toinvestigate the “worrying trend” of bodies found in the river. He has accused hospitalsof illegally dumping fetuses and babies. Yet it is not just the city’s rivers:babies are also found tucked into dustbins, dropped down pit latrines anddiscarded by roadsides.

“If you live in Kenya, you’llhave heard many stories about abandoned babies,” explains Nelly Bosire, aNairobi-based obstetrician-gynaecologist. “But the problem is bigger than itshould be – and bigger than we are talking about.” Young women from the poorestcommunities are most impacted, she says. Cases frequently occur around informalsettlements, where contraception is difficult to access. In Africa’s biggestslum, Kibra (formerly referred to as Kibera), 50%of 15-25 year-old womenare pregnant at any one time.

Dorothy, a27-year-old pastor, spends much ofher free time walking around thestreets of Nairobi’s sprawling shanty-towns. By August of this year, she hadstumbled on 12 abandoned infants. Some were just several hours old, clenchedfists revealing them struggling between life and death. Of those she rescued,eight died; four lived.

This much longer article was a collaboration between TheTelegraph, The Fuller Project for International Reporting, and Kenya’s TheDaily Nation.

SOURCE: The Telegraph, by Louise Donovan,Nasibo Kabale, 13 November 2019