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SWL-MDG5 - The Choices Mothers Make - The Sunday Times, 9th May 2010

Posted Date: 12/05/2010


Sunday, 9th May 2010

The choices mothers make

Ariadne Massa

Photo-Choices Women Make

Mother's Night is held on the eve of Mother's Day to put a spotlight on maternal health worldwide. Ariadne Massa went to South Africa to witness first-hand the Save Women's Lives project, co-steered by SOS Malta.

Susan*, 21, sobbed helplessly as she waited alone in the clinic, knowing her parents were outside to ensure she went through with the abortion.

Already a single mother of a two-year-old, Susan's parents were adamant she would not have another child with her boyfriend, who was in rehab for heroin addiction.

Wiping her tears with a crumpled tissue, Susan, now 22, recalled how her parents threatened to take her son away if she did not terminate her pregnancy.

Dependent on her parents and without a penny to escape their damning decision, she went ahead with it.

"I am still angry at my parents. When their friend had a child, they celebrated and said he was a precious gift, but they made me go through an abortion. What makes that person's child better than mine?" she asked.

Susan is just one of more than 85,000 young women and teenagers who choose or are forced to have an abortion every year in South Africa. However, not all have access to proper services and many still die at the hands of butchers in backstreet clinics.

Although the number of deaths dropped drastically after South Africa's parliament passed the Choice for Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1997, women are still dying.

Worldwide maternal mortality due to abortions has remained static at 70,000 deaths per year. This tragic and unnecessary toll follows from an unchanged rate of unsafe abortions: 14 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, currently at 20 million annually. This means somewhere in the world, a woman dies every eight minutes because of an unsafe abortion.

This is what drove Sandra Mabila, a nurse specialising in reproductive health, to join the Mosaic Women's Wellness Centre, because it hurt to see so many young girls dying of botched abortions or losing their uterus.

She shakes her head when she recounts how girls as young as 12 turn up at the clinic seeking an abortion.

"How do you begin to tell a 12-year-old to protect herself if she does not even understand what is happening to her own body and what intercourse does to her," she said, adding that Mosaic was working hard to provide women with information and advice to safeguard their sexual and reproductive health. In all, the clinic carries out 600 abortions a year.

Mosaic is one of the clinics the Save Women's Lives project helps in its mission to reduce maternal mortality. Preventing unintended pregnancies remains a key strategy for reducing unsafe abortions.

Save Women's Lives project is an EU-funded campaign started by Malta, the Netherlands, Hungary and Germany to raise awareness on Millennium Development Goal 5 - improving maternal health and reducing mortality by 75 per cent.

There are eight MDGs set by 189 nations, including Malta, in 2000. MDG 5 is one of the goals which registered the least progress.

Claudia Taylor East, from SOS Malta, the local partner in Save Women's Lives, said the objective of this project was to increase public awareness, and influence public opinion on maternal health, its relation to poverty eradication, as well as maternal mortality and safe motherhood in developing countries with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

A core of the campaign is Mother's Night, a tribute to mothers held annually in these four European countries on the eve of Mother's Day.

In Malta, Mother's Night was held last Thursday with this year's goal focused on women's health in the world and fighting against social inequality through an innovative communication system - an art exhibition that reaches people in a straight and passionate way.

The Malta Confederation of Women's Organisations head Anna Borg, who inaugurated the exhibition at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the spirit behind it was to urge decision-makers to continue funding initiatives to ensure a healthy pregnancy and safe childbirth.

"Hundreds of thousands of women and newborns can be saved but this will not materialise unless governments and the international community continue to provide funding to provide essential services to pregnant mothers," she said.

Closer to home, mothers giving birth were more privileged, and Ms Borg referred to recent World Health Organisation data showing a very low post-neonatal infant mortality in Malta, which has been steadily decreasing over the years.

However, this did not mean all was well here. The number of teenage pregnancies in Malta was increasing, and in spite of this, she said, Parliament had yet to approve the National Sexual Health Policy.

An NSO survey published in 2009 revealed that a quarter of the total live births in Malta occurred outside marriage.

"It is a known fact that teen pregnancy robs teenagers of their childhood and is likely to affect the future of their children as well. The odds are stacked against teenage mothers, who are more likely to drop out of school and refrain from furthering their education and training.

"When education is cut short, teenage mothers are unlikely to find a job with enough income to sustain them and their children, and if they rely on benefits they risk entering a poverty trap," Ms Borg said.

Society had to ask what was being done to help Maltese mothers ensure they continued their education and training. It had to ask whether these mothers were able to access affordable childcare and after school care to get a full-time job to secure a decent income for them and their children.

"So while our health system is delivering results when it comes to prenatal and neonatal care, our social policies have not evolved enough to support mothers with young children who want work. Much more needs to be done to give mothers real choices that could lead to their financial independence," Ms Borg said.

The exhibition is open for public viewing at the ministry's Pardo Hall until Thursday (excluding today), and then moves to Opus 64 Galerie, Tigné Street, Sliema, from Friday to May 31.


* Name has been changed.


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