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“I did not trust doctors”: how the industry of underground abortions in Lesotho works through social networks

Photos Rui Pires

In the small highland kingdom of Lesotho, where more than 2 million people live, abortion is legally prohibited. Exceptions only for cases when pregnancy threatens the health of women. Those who for some reason have performed the operation are blamed by society, and sometimes go to jail.

As a result, many anonymously find experts on the Internet. However, often in social networks, girls are not confronted with professionals, but dubious strangers who, by deceiving, lure money or endanger the patient’s life. A difficult situation with abortion in Lesotho is described by the publication CNN.

Underground in Facebook

MF is 27 years old, she asked journalists not to use her real name, so as not to be under investigation. In Facebook, she interacted with several men who called themselves doctors and sold pills for abortion. In Lesotho Facebook is the most popular social network, there often place offers about abortion for local residents. Usually women find potential specialists in thematic groups and contact them in WhatsApp (owned by Facebook).

CNN spoke with nine Lesotho residents aged 17 to 30 who were taking forbidden pills for abortion. None of them believed that the procedure was safe. Everyone was confronted with bleeding and weakness after taking medications, but none of them received medical care.

Through Facebook, the journalist contacted an unknown person calling himself a doctor and introduced himself as a 15-year-old girl from Lesotho. After that, the conversation moved to WhatsApp, where the prospective specialist suggested selling the pills for “cleaning the womb” for $ 86 and promised that the procedure would pass painlessly.

According to Lesotho’s Ministry of Health, the illegal termination of pregnancy is a big problem in the country. 13% of hospitalizations of girls and women from 13 years of age and older are due to abortion. These data can be significantly underestimated due to lack of information from the authorities. The Ministry does not know the exact number of women who have experienced health problems during an abortion operation, because the patients are afraid to talk about it.

In October 2017, a 15-year-old girl died in a village in Lesotho a few days after the abortion operation. During school hours, she began to have colic in the abdomen, after which she was taken to a local hospital. Doctors did not manage to save the teenager.

Suspicious “doctors” in small rooms

Mfo doubted whether she should look for the necessary pills on the Internet, but her friends and acquaintances convinced her of the safety of the forums. Although it is not safe to speak about such things publicly, women discuss and share rumors about abortions in the network. “I did not trust doctors. They looked as if they just wanted money and were constantly rushing me. But I had no choice, “Mfo explains.

After communicating in WhatsApp, the girl agreed to meet with what she thought was the most convincing man. They discussed the price, met and went to the city of Ladybrand in the Republic of South Africa, located 30 minutes drive from the capital of Lesotho – Maseru. The prospective doctor was waiting for MFO in a small room and spoke with a foreign accent.

Operation in Lesotho. On the contrary, the black doctor of the hospital is a colleague from the United States. Photos Touching Tiny Lives

The girl lay down on a single bed and at the request of a man drank several unknown tablets. “Then he forcefully put two pills in my crotch,” Mfo recalls. The doctor advised her to relax and let go of a few jokes about how she was “great to make a child.” After the procedure, the doctor suddenly raised the original price of $ 67 to $ 126. Given the average annual income of a woman in Lesotho at $ 2,258, the amount was significant. Resigned, MF passed the money to the doctor and left.

The operation failed – the girl remained pregnant. She tried again, buying tablets from a man through a friend. A few hours after taking medication, Mfo woke up on her boyfriend’s bed in blood. She almost lost consciousness, tried to stop the bleeding, but it ended only four hours later. “I’ve never lost so much blood and I’ve never been so hurt,” Mfo recalls. Despite the young man’s persuasion, she did not dare go to the hospital.

Inactivity of the authorities

Religion is one of the main reasons why Lesotho was banned from abortion. About 90% of the population identify themselves as Christians, and Catholic traditions still seriously affect the culture of the country. If a girl is suspected of interrupting a pregnancy, they can complain to the police. Meanwhile, foreigners who secretly perform abortion operations remain unpunished. The police often talk about this problem, but so far there is no real fight against pseudo-specialists. Usually they leave the country right after the operation, which complicates their capture.

Many come from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Congo, but there are also local ones. “The only way to identify and find these doctors is to raid and regularly check hospitals and private clinics,” said Lesotho police spokeswoman Aus Lesupi. He specified that the operatives do not monitor social networks and do not follow the advertisement of tablets for abortion.

Lashupi does not know exactly how often the police arrest women for trying to interrupt pregnancy, but believes that this happens “regularly.”

The Ministry of Health understands the difficult situation in the country. The head of the family department, Dr. Limpho Maile, recommends that pregnant women leave Lesotho and seek help in neighboring countries – for example, in the Republic of South Africa. Human rights activist Lineo Tsikane, who works in Maseru, believes that the situation is getting worse. Partly because of inactivity of officials.

They  know that abortion is not legal, but tell us ( human rights defenders  To advise the girls to go to another country, rather than to change the laws in Lesotho. They force women to make such plans for abortion, as if they plan to rob a bank.

Lineo Jikan
human rights defender in Lesotho
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