“Drink detergent” they suggest.
“No no, drink strong black tea – a lot of it.”
“No”, someone else chimes in “that won’t work, there’s a person I know who can take care of it. Here’s the number”.

And Just like that, in the noise and the confusion the voices of “concern and help”, a desperate young woman steeped in fear, loneliness and ignorance finds herself having a backstreet abortion.


For many women who find themselves going down this route, the results can be anything from excessive bleeding, abdominal cramps, organ failure and even death. For the “lucky ones”, their stories sound something like this.

Editah Ochieng’
My friend had invited me to his house. I had known him for a very long time, and it was normal for me to visit him. But when I went there, him and another friend started to touch me. I tried to fight them off, but they tied my legs. The sad thing is, the whole time they were gang raping me, I was screaming and the women were sitting outside. They could hear me. But after they said it was my fault because I went to the house.

About a month later, I started feeling sick and I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t want to keep the child, as I didn’t know who the father was. So I confided in a friend and we found someone to buy pills from. She gave me three pills. Two I swallowed, and one I inserted in my vagina.

The pills did not work, so I went to another woman who inserted something inside me. I think It was a hanger. I remember the pain was excruciating! I was bleeding so so much. Eventually the pain got so bad I had to go to hospital. They told me I was lucky to be alive.

Nearly half of the estimated 56 million abortions performed worldwide every year are unsafe and women in poor countries face even higher risks, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Guttmacher Institute.

In Kenya, where an estimated 464,690 abortions are conducted annually, business is booming for the butchers who often masquerade as doctors or health professionals.

The terminations are achieved without any pre-screening and in unhygienic conditions that don’t meet medical standards.

Why you may ask? It’s often considered faster, easier and cheaper to get an illegal abortion in most parts of the world because of the secrecy and anonymity provided. And for a young girl, terrified of the stigma and unable to support a child, it is easy to be lured by an apparent “easy way out”.

The narratives from women around the world can be found everywhere. Ask most women and they will either have a story or know someone who knows someone. From Nairobi to Cape town, Freetown to London, Rome to New York, young women seeking backstreet abortions tell the horrors of the methods used and the effects thereafter.

They are often given pills to abort pregnancies but other methods include scraping the lining of the uterus with a surgical tool, or knives and even coat hangers among other invasive methods, some of which have proven deadly. The providers also perform the procedures when the pregnancies are too far along to be aborted legally putting young women at high risk.

For some women, that first missed period is a time of intense anxiety, stress and fear. Particularly when the man she slept with, on hearing “niko na ball” is either dismissive, flabbergasted or simply doesn’t really want to have anything to do with it. Even if he says “OK, here’s some money, go away”, where does she begin? In her frightened and bewildered form, she will ask around and finally end up in a room, a place, a bed, a shack even, where the “matter will be taken care of.”

She will go home hoping against hope that the “everything is alright now”. If she is lucky, she will live. If backstreet abortions go as they go, she will have complications in future. Even then – they’re lucky just to be alive. As we say in Kenya “bora uhai.” but at what cost?

It doesn’t have to be like this and you shouldn’t feel alone or afraid. If a young woman wants real guidance, a listening ear to clam away the fear and terror of the moment, pass this article on to her and ask her to call Marie Stopes on 0800 72 000 5

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