Volatiana keeps her secret behind a flimsy wooden gate, tucked along a red brick wall at the back of her vegetable garden in Madagascar’s Antananarivo.
“There are around eight foetuses buried here,” said the Malagasy mother of six, standing on a narrow patch of land hidden behind a corrugated metal sheet.
With them lies a baby delivered prematurely at seven months, she added.
“He was wailing when I put him in a plastic bag.”
Volatiana, who did not wish to use her real name, had carried them all. When they were removed from her body, she felt only relief.
“I felt a sense of release,” she said.
“Having another baby would be hell.”
Abortion is illegal in Madagascar, a majority-Christian country that Pope Francis is set to visit next week as part of his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa.
Termination here is punishable by 10 years in prison, and banned even when pregnancy results from rape.
Prosecution remains rare. But an attempt to decriminalise abortion was pushed back by parliament in 2017.
With mouths to feed, no running water and an alcoholic husband, Volatiana, 44, says she has “had enough”.
When she gets pregnant, abortion is her only way out.
And she is not alone.
One in four women in Madagascar have terminated their pregnancies, according to pro-abortion group, Nifin’akanga.
These women, who come from all social backgrounds, abort between two and eight times over the course of their lives, said Nifin’akanga co-founder, Mbolatiana Raveloarimisa.
The association takes its name from a powerful blue-flowered herb that is often used in backstreet abortions.
‘Angel makers’ –
Volatiana knows several abortionists — “angel makers”, as they are known.
Dety, an illegal abortionist whose name has been changed for this article, infuses avocado leaves for her clients to drink.
She then enters them with a tube or a ball of nifin’akanga and massages their abdomen to provoke contractions. The procedure takes up to three days and can be excruciating.
Another abortionist is a retired midwife, Lucie, whose method is faster and less painful.
She delivers her services at home, over a blood-stained tarpaulin amid the pungent smell of urine.
She gives antispasmodic medication and then pulls out the foetus using a speculum and pliers.
Dety charges Ar10,000, while Lucie asks for Ar200,000.
With a meagre monthly income of just Ar140,000 — Ar60,000 lower than the minimum wage — Volatiana can only afford the services of Dety, but calls on Lucie if she suffers complications.
“I wait for Friday to abort so that I don’t miss any days of work,” said Volatiana, who works as a maid.
“Over the weekend, I continue drinking the infusions and massaging my stomach,” she said, wincing at the memories.
“When I’m about to abort I ask the children to play outside.”
Surrounded by squalor, she thanks God for being alive.
“Once, I aborted twins. I almost died.”
Abortions and miscarriages kill an average of three women per day in Madagascar, according to Lalaina Razafinirinasoa, country director for the British-based family planning NGO, Marie Stopes International.
Each year, the charity provides post-abortion care to 200,000 women.
Many suffer bleeding and infections after inserting themselves with banana peels, nifin’akanga, clothes hangers, bleach and ash. They are treated in public hospitals.
“The biggest risk is organ perforation,” said Anderson Randriambelomanana, head of the maternity ward at Antananarivo’s Andohatapenaka hospital.
“Our duty is to cure rather than castigate.”
Raveloarimisa says treatment, as opposed to prevention, is simply “hypocrisy”.
“Why not take charge of women before all these complications arise, rather than sending them to a slaughterhouse?”
The country of 26 million has a fertility rate of more than four children per woman. It has one of the highest rates of demographic growth in the world, of 2.7 per cent.
Volatiana could use contraception, but family planning is almost non-existent in Madagascar. Getting an appointment would cost her half a day’s work.
“The barriers are financial, cultural and linked to the availability of contraceptives,” said Razafinirinasoa.
Fear and rumours –
While some public hospitals provide birth control, their numbers remain insufficient. Marie Stopes estimates that around one fifth of women who wish to use contraception have no access to it.
The main reason is lack of money.
Marie Stopes charges Ar2,000 to fit an IUD and Ar5,000 for an implant.
” Ar2,000 is maybe half the daily income of a street vendor,” said Razafinirinasoa.
Many women are influenced by rumours about contraception leading to weight gain, malaria and cancer. And others face pushback from their husbands.
In Malagasy society, “the man is a semi-God” and “woman must bend to his wishes”, said Raveloarimisa.
Volatiana said her husband turned violent if she refused his sexual advances.
“If he needs me, whatever the time, I do it.”
In a country whose leaders are highly influenced by the Pope, pro-abortion groups are urging Francis to take a new stance on the practice during his visit.
“Why is it that someone who has no uterus, no daughter and not even a wife has laws to dictate on women?” said Raveloarimisa, struggling to contain her outrage.
Meanwhile, Volatiana continues to carry her heavy secret.
“Sometimes, I lay flowers there. I pray that they will understand why I chose to do what I did.”
Drama as Kenyan traffic officers accidentally shoot female colleague
Sources say that one of the traffic officers attempted to fire at the EACC detectives but, instead, shot a female colleague in the thigh
A melee ensued on Wednesday morning in the lakeside city of Kisumu, Kisumu County in Kenya after traffic police officers at a roadblock opened fire on Ethics and Anti-Corruption (EACC) officers.
The fracas broke out following a sting operation conducted by the EACC detectives targeting police officers suspected of receiving bribes at the Mamboleo roadblock as well as the Kisumu International Airport area.
Sources say that one of the traffic officers attempted to fire at the EACC detectives but, instead, shot a female colleague in the thigh.
As at the time of this report, she had been taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. One of the other officers attempted to escape by jumping from the Mamboleo flyover but broke a leg and had to be assisted to the police station. A total of five officers were apprehended and will face various charges.
That a traffic officer was armed raises significant questions given that police officers assigned to traffic duties in Kenya are generally not armed.
None of the EACC detectives were injured during the incident.
Ethiopia’s Sidama ethnic group votes in referendum on statehood
At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states — with the Sidama voting for a potential tenth
Polls opened on Wednesday in Ethiopia’s ethnic Sidama region in a referendum for a new federal state, a critical vote in a tense region that could embolden others to follow.
The Sidama push for statehood already triggered days of unrest in July that left dozens dead and prompted the government to place Ethiopia’s southern region under the control of soldiers and federal police.
But the mood on Wednesday morning in the regional capital, Hawassa appeared calm.
People formed long queues at polling stations at dawn, with some 2.3 million people registered to vote.
Away from the polling stations, the streets of Hawassa were much quieter than usual, with Wednesday declared a holiday for the vote. Heavily armed police and soldiers patrolled the streets.
“The voting process is inclusive, smooth, transparent and exciting,” said 27-year-old Fantahun Hatiso, after casting his ballot.
“I voted for a decision that I believe will work towards development, peace and personal well-being.”
The referendum on autonomy springs from a federal system designed to provide widespread ethnic self-rule in a hugely diverse country, Africa’s second-most populous, with more than 100 million people.
At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states — with the Sidama voting for a potential tenth.
The constitution requires the government to organise a referendum for any ethnic group that wants to form a new entity.
The Sidama — who number more than three million — have agitated for years to leave the diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region.
The dream gained fresh momentum after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, took office last year.
“I stayed up until late in the night,” Hatiso added. “The excitement of waiting for this day, which will bring liberty and peace to my people, kept me awake.”
At least ten other groups in the south of the country have already launched plans for self-determination similar to that of the Sidama. Analysts fear it could unleash further ethnic violence.
Polls opened at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) and close at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT). Preliminary results are expected on Thursday.
Gunmen ambush and kill 8 Burundian soldiers
Dozens more soldiers were missing in the ambush on their base, one of largest and deadliest attacks for several years
Burundian soldiers were attacked in a night jungle ambush near the border with Rwanda, Burundi’s defence ministry said, with military sources on Tuesday reporting at least eight soldiers’ deaths.
Dozens more soldiers were missing in the ambush on their base, one of largest and deadliest attacks for several years, senior army officers said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A group armed with rifles from Rwanda attacked a position of Burundian soldiers on Mount Twinyoni,” defence ministry spokesman Major Emmanuel Gahongano said on state television on Monday.
“This armed group has withdrawn to Rwanda.”
He did not give details of casualties or the identity of the attackers.
Burundi has been in crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza defied constitutional limits to seek a third term in office, winning re-election in 2015.
Burundi has repeatedly accused neighbouring Rwanda of supporting rebel groups in its territory, a claim Kigali denies.
Rwanda on Tuesday denied any role in the attack.
“It is not true that the attacks were made from people who came from Rwanda,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, State Minister for Regional Affairs, told reporters.
“These are unfounded allegations being made from Burundi — as they have done previously for the last four years. We have other things to do.”
The attack, some 100 kilometres north of the capital Bujumbura, in thick forests 10 kilometres from the Rwandan border, took place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Around 90 soldiers were reported to be in the base before the attack.
But when reinforcements arrived hours later, they found only the bodies of eight comrades, including of the company commander, a senior officer told reporters.
Later, 15 soldiers were found alive, some of them wounded.
“The rest of the company is still missing,” the officer said. Their fate is unknown.
The military source reported that attackers were well-equipped.
“Our soldiers were surprised by assailants wearing bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles, which completely wiped out the position,” the officer said, a report confirmed by two other military sources.
“We believe that it is not mere rebels who are responsible for it.”
No Burundian armed group has claimed responsibility.
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