President of Rwanda orders release of women and girls jailed over abortion

In early April 2019, Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, pardoned 367 women convicted for “pregnancy-related crimes.” Among them was Valentine, whose case had been accompanied by Trust grantee Women’s Link Worldwide. Valentine was at home alone when she went into labour, and her baby died. She was subsequently charged with infanticide and sentenced to life imprisonment during a trial where she had no legal representation. Her sentence was later reduced to 10 years following the intervention of Women’s Link Worldwide. Valentine walked free under the presidential pardon last week.

In August 2018, the government of Rwanda revised its penal code, which had previously imposed severe prison sentences on anyone having an abortion or assisting someone to have one. Abortion is now allowed in cases of rape, incest, forced marriage, or when the pregnancy poses health risks to the mother or fetus. The new law stipulates that abortion can be carried out after consultation with a doctor while in the past, the final decision was taken by courts.

Civil society hailed the presidential pardon as an important step forward for women’s rights in the country. Women’s Link Worldwide has been working with partner organisations in Rwanda to increase access to sexual and reproductive rights and acknowledge the injustice of criminalising poor women who do not have access to proper medical care.

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