A 12-year-old from Goma, DRC, recounts how the international NGO persuaded her to keep her baby.
GOMA — The girls, all of them under 18 and all pregnant, are taking the courtyard outside the Murara Hospital by storm.
The mothers-to-be are here in the eastern Congolese city of Goma to attend a course on the importance of seeing their pregnancies through, and then keeping the children once they are born. They are also being encourage to deliver their babies at the hospital.
"This will reduce the number of children thrown in the gutters and in the lake, a situation that spiralled out of control in 2012," says Joseph Makundi, a sociologist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who notes that authorities find as many as five dead babies a week.
The course is overseen and sponsored by the NGO Save the Children. The classes, as well as maternity fees and medication, are provided free of charge.
Deborah Kavira, 15, was considering abortion after she was told that her pelvis was too narrow to give birth "the natural way." In the end, with the hospital's help, her delivery took place just as she had hoped. "I didn't know I could give birth without an operation," she says.
Since the classes began in October, six out of the 30 girls who attended have already had their babies.
Makundi points to data available since 1995 showing high levels of sexual activity among 15 to 19-year-olds. Among those who end up pregnant, 38% have a voluntary abortion and 13% have a miscarriage.
The girls attending the class come from all over the city. Among them is a 12-year-old who proudly explains that she would have had an abortion if it were not for the hospital and the NGO's intervention and help.
Moïse Lokoto, field manager at Save The Children, says abortions can be caused by various factors. Some do it because they don't know who the father is. Others because their partner doesn't want to accept the responsibility for fear of being accused of sexual assault on the young mother.
"Besides the medication and maternity fees, Save The Children provides these girls with a complete package for the child, with a blanket, soap and diapers," explains Mugole Muhindo, a nurse at the hospital.
But not all of the girls are happy about this type of support. Some say that what they really need is money. "It would be better for us if we were given a certain sum to support us and the child for the first few months," says Bora Salima, who was transferred to hospital after her baby's birth following complications.
The transfer left her with a $41 bill that Save The Children didn't cover. "They said they'd take care of everything," she says.
A source at the NGO denies that the organization ever made such a promise. The Save the Children official says they makes it clear that it does not pay for surgical interventions or complications that would require a longer stay in hospital.
Either way, Salima's case demonstrates the limits — or even the opposite effects — of this kind of targeted support.