Abortion and Fostrage in Kenya

That time I thought I was pregnant

…. I was scared.

…… I thought “Why me? I am I being punished?

……I knew I wasn’t going to keep it.

These are just samples of responses I got from my friends when I brought up pregnancies. Clearly, I wasn’t talking to married women but with a significant proportion of my female friends aged between 24–30 it is quite understandable.

My male friends shared most of these sentiments and viewed unplanned pregnancies as an unwanted condition 67 per cent (sample of 3) of the time. This is a very scary statistic my limited sample notwithstanding.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics tracks different causes of morbidity and discovers that over 77,000 Kenyans die every year from abortion.

Policy question

Constitution of Kenya through article 26(4) states that:

Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.

The penal code prohibits procurement of abortion (Articles 158 -159,228), supply of drugs and equipment to aid abortion (Article 160) and recommends punishment through imprisonment from 3 years to life.

Unplanned pregnancies contribute to 40 per cent of births

It is therefore curious that in a nation where there are 96 births for every 1000 women aged 15–19, 47 per cent are unplanned. Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 reports that the median age at first birth for women aged 25–49 is 20.3 per cent. Additionally, 25 per cent of these women has given birth by age 18.

A closer look at the women aged 15–19 at the time of the survey (2013- 2014), data reveals considerable change as shown below.

A 2010 Synovate poll showed that Kenyans are overwhelmingly pro-life. 69 per cent were against legalization of abortion against 9 per cent, 16 per cent didn’t think it mattered while 6 per cent had no opinion. The 9 per cent argued that maternal mortality and illegal abortions estimated at over 300,000 a year warranted full legalization.

The case for fosterage

There’s very scanty information on fosterage in Kenya or on the official channels were one want to pursue such a path to parenthood. This is very unfortunate as over 3.5 million children were orphaned or not living with either parent according to a 2008 technical report. Officially, the disbanded National Adoption Committee licenses adoption agencies and approves inter-country adoptions which were frozen by the cabinet in 2014. It is therefore difficult for an teenage mother who lawfully can’t get an adoption to put up their kid for adoption.


Even though the law permits adults aged between 21 to 65 years to adopt a child as long as they are 25 years older than the child (doesn’t make sense), there’s very unclear guidelines on the process or licensed adoption agencies. The child to be adopted has to be at least 6 weeks old. As more and more women get educated, the total fertility rate will reduce and thus the need for adoptions. It is therefore incumbent on the department of children services to provide clear guidelines.

Finally, a policy change to legalize abortion is required if only to prevent the loss of 80 thousand lives every year.

Recommended Podcast episode on this topic is 23 Weeks, 6 Days by Radiolab.