NAIROBI, KENYA – Grace Anindo, a 15-year-old girl from Nairobi’s Kibera slum, suspected she was pregnant just days before planning to start secondary school in February 2012.
She was living with her aunt, who offered to pay her school fees because her parents couldn’t afford to educate her.
“I was so scared,” she says. “My dreams of becoming a nurse to rescue my parents from poverty seemed to have been suddenly dashed.”
When the time came for the required medical tests, Grace refused to go and ran away from her aunt’s home. She then went to a clinic within the slum that confirmed her fears that she was pregnant.
She considered getting a clandestine abortion, as abortion is illegal in Kenya except under emergency circumstances. But she says that stories she had heard of girls dying in the slum’s clinics while undergoing the procedure dissuaded her.
Instead, she confided in a friend about the pregnancy, who then volunteered to take her to Kiota Rescue Centre, a home in Muranga county about 100 kilometers north of Nairobi that provides a safe place for pregnant girls rejected by their families.
“I was scared at first, but I now love my new home,” Grace says as she stretches on the sofa in the home’s living room.
Her five-month baby bump is clearly visible, and her skin glows. She is hopeful that after giving birth, she will go back to school and continue pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse.
“Kiota” is a Kiswahili word that means a nest where birds care for their eggs until they hatch. The center, comprising one big house and an expansive compound, looks like any other home in the lush, green neighborhood of Kiambuthia, an area of rolling hills covered by tea plants. It is run by the Protecting Life Movement Trust, a ministry of various churches that aims to uphold the sanctity of life, especially of unborn children.
Abortion is illegal in Kenya under most circumstances. But unqualified medical practitioners can be found to perform the procedure in backstreet clinics, often resulting in death, medical complications or infertility. The Kiota Rescue Centre aims to offer an alternative to teenagers who become pregnant and face rejection from their families and school dropouts. It also aims to prepare the teens for their future parenting responsibilities as well as to expand across Kenya.
Every year, more than 2,600 women die from complications from unsafe abortions in Kenya, and 21,000 women are hospitalized with complications from incomplete and unsafe abortions, according to a 2010 study by the Center for Reproductive Rights, an international organization that uses law to advance reproductive freedom.
Kenya’s penal code makes it a felony for pregnant women to induce or to obtain an abortion. The penalty is seven years in prison for the women and 14 years for anyone who performs an abortion.
In 2010, Article 26 of the new Kenyan Constitution decriminalized abortion if a trained health professional determines a need for emergency treatment or that the life