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As stigma wanes, abortions rise

Rhea Mae Soco / Khmer Times Share:
A pregnant factory worker leaves after finishing her shift in Phnom Penh. KT/Pann Rachana

More Cambodians have openly accepted the idea of safe abortion despite the social stigma women are facing, according to Marie Stopes Cambodia, an organisation that promotes women’s health.

The prevalence of abortion increased significantly among women between the ages of 15-49 from five percent in 2010 to seven percent in 2014, based on the Cambodia Demographic Health Survey.

Camille Tijamo, operations director of Marie Stopes Cambodia, said the influx of female migrant workers is one of the major reasons for the rising number of abortions. She said that women from different provinces come to the capital to work in factories but when they get pregnant unexpectedly, they choose to abort the baby.

The law says it is legal for a woman to seek an abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy. There are circumstances in which more than 12 weeks is still considered legal if it poses a risk to the woman’s life or health, is a result of rape or if the child may be born with an incurable disease. For these situations, two medical personnel are required to approve the abortion.

Tijamo explained there are two types of safe abortions being offered in Cambodia, medical and surgical. The medical type uses pills and is used up to nine weeks of the pregnancy, while the surgical method, which uses a manual vacuum, is for up to 12 weeks.

“We provide choices for women with unplanned pregnancies. Children by choice, not chance,” she said.

However, social stigma in Cambodia is still a huge issue.

Meas Sa Im, deputy head of women’s and children’s affairs at Adhoc told Khmer Times that women are often discriminated against when they choose to abort, especially if they are single.

Whether it is about Buddhism or a family issue, unmarried women are being looked down on if they choose abortion as it is considered a sin.

In some cases, women continue with their pregnancy, then abandon the newborn babies hoping other people will find and take care of them instead.

Last Friday, a newborn baby girl was found dead inside a garbage bag at Srah Chak pagoda, near Wat Phnom in Daun Penh district, Phnom Penh. Based on the investigation conducted by the police and the Child Protection Unit (CPU), the baby was left alive in the garbage bag. This was in addition to the recently reported dead newborn found in a cardboard box at Wat Phnom high school.

The legality of safe abortion was introduced in 1997. Gradually the number of women opting for safe abortions is soaring high.

Tijamo added that over the years, perception about abortions have changed and the younger generation is slowly accepting the idea of safe abortions.

“We wanted to let them know that they are not alone on this journey,” she said.

Their team also provides sex and reproductive education in different areas in Cambodia, especially in schools where the teachers are not comfortable tackling the subject with the students because, according to Tijamo, there are still others who do not fully accept it.

Several sex workers went on record about opting to abort an unexpected pregnancy in order to keep their job. Once the management finds out they are pregnant, they are automatically fired as it would affect their job performance.

“They have a choice. It’s their body. They must know that they have safe options,” said Tijamo

Meanwhile, the Women’s Resource Center reported that they provide workshops for young girls about safe abortions. This is to provide them with a wider knowledge about abortion while they are young and to expose the risks of getting an unsafe abortion which locals call a “deep massage”.

Women experiencing depression due to unplanned pregnancy are encouraged to contact relevant organisations for help through chatting apps and Facebook.

 

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