This lawsuit argues that the detention and abuse of women who are unable to pay for maternity services at Kenyan public hospitals is arbitrary, unlawful, and in violation of Kenyan constitutional and international human rights standards.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed this case on December 7, 2012, on behalf of two petitioners who were admitted to Pumwani Maternity Hospital—Kenya’s largest public maternity hospital—to deliver their babies and were subsequently detained for their inability to pay hospital fees. The first petitioner, Millicent Awuor (Maimuna), gave birth to a baby girl in 2010. When she could not pay the hospital’s fees, Maimuna was detained by hospital staff in an overcrowded ward for 24 days, during which time she was denied post-natal care and contracted pneumonia from being forced to sleep on the floor. The second petitioner, Margaret Anyoso Oliele, was detained and abused twice at Pumwani while seeking delivery services during different pregnancies. On her first visit, she was illegally detained for 12 days after giving birth and soon after returned to the hospital complaining of stomach pains, leading to an additional surgery to remove a pair of scissors left inside her abdomen after her caesarian. During a subsequent pregnancy, a public clinic sent Margaret back to Pumwani Maternity Hospital, where she was again detained after giving birth, this time for six days, and ended up with a ruptured bladder due to neglect by medical staff.
This case marks the first time that the High Court of Kenya heard a case on the detainment of women in maternity hospitals.
On September 17, 2015, the High Court ruled that Pumwani Maternity Hospital’s detention of Maimuna and Margaret for failing to pay their treatment fees was unconstitutional and amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and a violation of their right to freedom of movement. The mistreatment of the petitioners by the hospital staff, including the denial of emergency medical services, was found to have violated their rights to health, dignity, equality and non-discrimination and freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The High Court of Kenya ordered the Ministry of Health to end the discrimination and abuse of women in public maternity hospitals and to provide financial compensation for Margaret and Maimuna.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than two decades across Africa to advance women’s access to reproductive health care through law and policy reform. In 2007, the Center and the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya released a report documenting how Kenya’s health care sector suffers from systemic and widespread problems that deny women high quality reproductive health care, including abuse and neglect around delivery.
Plaintiff(s): Millicent Awuor (Maimuna) and Margaret Anyoso Oliele
- Press release: CRR Case on Unlawful Detention of Women in Maternity Hospitals in the High Court of Kenya, 12.07.12
- In Pursuit of Justice, 12.07.12
- Kenyan High Court: Maternity Hospital Illegally Imprisoned Women, Violated Human Rights, 09.17.15
- Case of Illegal Detention and Death of Woman at Hospital Heads to High Court of Nigeria, 01.04.16
- Report: Detention and Abuse of Women Seeking Maternal Health Services: Fundamental Rights Violation, 05.30.17
- Addressing Disrespect and Abuse in Maternal Health Care Facilities in Kenya, 01.22.21