A group of determined women in Akweyaland, situated within the Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State, are raising their voices against a deeply rooted village tradition that imposes severe penalties, including death, on women who undergo abortions. This archaic practice is particularly prevalent in the villages of Ogyoma, Adim, and Igbeji, all located in the Akpa District of Otukpo Local Government, Benue State.
Ms Ochidu Ameh, a member of this courageous group, highlights the distressing aspect of this situation: even married women who resort to abortion as a means of birth control find themselves facing the grim consequences stipulated by the local shrine.
According to the pronouncement from the shrine, any woman who undergoes an abortion is fated to perish unless she confesses her actions and fulfils specific fines aimed at cleansing and appeasing the land. This belief held by the elders stems from the notion that the act of abortion desecrates and defiles the land, potentially leading to agricultural losses and misfortune within the communities, as the land is believed to be angered by such actions. In the village of Ogyoma, the guilty party is compelled to conduct a complete burial ceremony for the aborted foetus, mirroring the solemnity reserved for deceased adults.
This ritualistic proclamation occurs at the central village shrine every three months, overseen by the traditional priest in charge. During the week leading up to the proclamation, young maidens are given an opportunity to come forward and confess to any abortions they may have undergone within that period. Those who admit to the act are required to pay a fine consisting of a goat and the sum of twenty thousand naira. These offerings are intended to cleanse and appease the spirits or gods of the land.
Charity Ediba, a healthcare professional, emphasised the importance of safe practices and education in an interview with Akweyatv. She advocated for the use of protective measures, such as condoms, and the provision of comprehensive family planning guidance to married women. However, she noted that in rural areas, young women often face barriers, such as shyness, when buying condoms from pharmacies. Additionally, some young men persist in engaging in unprotected intercourse.
A recent study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute revealed alarming statistics, estimating approximately 456,000 unsafe abortions occurring annually in Nigeria. Disturbingly, only 40% of these procedures are performed by licensed physicians in adequately equipped medical facilities, leaving the remaining majority in non-physicians’ hands.
Women who resort to unsafe abortion methods often do so to evade legal and societal repercussions. This unfortunate reality has led to a surge in abortion-related complications, contributing to elevated mortality and morbidity rates across the country. As these women bravely come forward to challenge long-standing traditions, the need for safe and accessible reproductive healthcare options becomes increasingly urgent.