Abdulwakil Saiboko

25 January 2012

A LAW to protect rights of mothers and adolescent girls in accessing reproductive health services is in the offing.

A draft bill will be presented to a group of Parliamentarians in February, this year, to kick-start the process of enacting the law.

Presenting the summary of the Bill to Enact the Safe Motherhood Law (2012) in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, the Care International Project Officer, Mr Kanuth Dimosi noted that the bill intended to protect the rights of mothers, adolescent girls men and boys in accessing reproductive health services.

Mr Dimosi who was speaking at a safe motherhood stakeholders’ meeting to discuss the draft of the bill in question, noted that the final draft would be presented to the Parliamentarians for Safe Motherhood Group (PSMG).

The move stems from another stakeholders’ meeting held in June, last year, which underscored the need to formulate a law that would protect pregnant women from maternal mortality and infant mortality. According to Mr Dimoso, the bill has various parts which address issues of access to contraceptives and family planning, maternal and new born health as well as sexual and reproductive health of adolescents.

Others include, termination of pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, harmful practices affecting sexual and reproductive health as well as implementing and enforcement mechanisms. Earlier, while presenting the safe motherhood bill concept and rationale, the Care International Technical Coordinator, Ms Rachael Boma noted that the move had been necessitated by gaps found in various laws.

“The Law of Marriage Act of 1971 encourages early marriages on the part of girls. It allows girls to get married at the age of 14 or l5 which is unacceptable as girls at the said ages are still in adolescent,” she said. Ms Boma noted that the Education Act of 1978 could also feature in a group of bad laws, as it does not include protection measures for girls who get pregnant while in school.

“The Law of the Child Act of 2009 lacks effective enforcement because Tanzania does not have a children’s court which is user friendly for adolescent girls and boys and at the same time the Prisoners Act of 1967 is silent with regard to Maternal Sexual and Reproductive Health (MSRH) of the female prisoners,” she added.

Ms Boma also noted that the Public Health Act of 2009 does not explicitly provide for the enforcement of the right to health such as the right to be treated well by a professional medical officer, the rights to medication and care. “From reviews made in various laws, it is vivid that there are a good number of contradictions and gaps in the existing laws, making the need for MSRH comprehensive legislation apparent,” she said.

According to her, other countries such as Benin, Chad, Mali, The Philippines and South Africa already have comprehensive MSRH laws and general research shows improved MSRH services with enactment of the laws. At the last June’s meeting which called for the formulation of the Bill, the Legislator for Peramiho who is also the chairperson of the Bunge group for safe motherhood, Mrs Jenista Mhagama said that coming up with a specific law on safe motherhood was vital to protect mothers and their babies from preventable loss of lives.

“It is a bad experience looking at how we lose hundreds of women during birth every year, when it has been repeatedly stated that no woman should die while giving life. We really need to have this law in place,” she said.