Going through abortion is not easy in the slightest. Women who do not want to become pregnant, whether married or unmarried, go through it, but the abortion of unmarried women in Arab societies is done in secret because "pregnant women without a marriage certificate" are subjected to double violence that’s very widespread, because the concept of dishonor and shame only applies to women. Moez Cherif, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Tunis, a specialist in pediatric surgery and president of the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Children's Rights, describes this position to Raseef22 as "difficult, as having children outside marriage leaves a social stigma throughout one’s entire life, which pushes a single mother to abandon her child and be unable to raise him/her in dignity due to all those involved, whether it’s her family that rejects her or society rejects her and calls her corrupt."
This form of exclusion and violence leads many women to abandon newborn infants, so how about depriving babies (fetuses) of life through forced abortion? What are the real reasons that push a single mother to deprive her child of life? Are the institutions that foster these children playing their necessary role to prevent this crime?
Tunisian law calls a child born out of wedlock a "foundling" child (locally known as a “laqit”), which is "unreasonable and unacceptable. The law must therefore be changed because a child cannot be held responsible for the way or situation he or she was born in. In the Tunisian social and cultural approach, there is an absence of assigning responsibility to the father, and dishonor and shame are placed on the mother first and the infant later, so responsibility must also be placed on the fathers, both legally and socially," says Cherif.
Article 77 of the Personal Status Code of Tunisian law states in the provisions of the "al-laqit" (foundling), the following: "Any person who, with the authorization of the judge, takes charge of a foundling is obliged to support him until he is able to earn money, save where the foundling has money". Meanwhile, Article 78 stipulates: "The foundling shall remain in the hands of the one who took him in and no one can take him from him unless his parents appear and the judge rules accordingly."
For its part, the Ministry of Family, Women, Children, and Seniors (MFFES) indicated that 11,789 children from various states of the country were entrusted by child protection delegates out of 17,069 notifications received in 2021, or 69%, and during the same year, 802 births out of wedlock were registered, while in 2022, approximately 868 notifications of extramarital birth were received.
Figures do not reflect the true number of births outside of wedlock, as there are cases of clandestine abortion and cases of killing fetuses and babies immediately after they are born, or dumping them in garbage bags while still alive.
It is medically agreed upon that the abortion process must take place before the first three months (trimester) of pregnancy, to avoid danger to the mother’s life. It is preferable that it take place in the first weeks of pregnancy, that is, before the 12th week, and not anytime during the advanced months, that is, starting from the fourth month, which doctors refuse to do because it is illegal.
In Tunisia, there are cases of clandestine abortion and cases of killing fetuses and babies immediately after they are born, with some going as far as to dump them in garbage bags while they’re still alive
Social worker Nesrine Ben Belkassem confirms to Raseef22 that abortion is a form of violence against children because it deprives them of their right to life. There are several reasons why the mother aborts her fetus. Married women usually go for abortion as a result of several reasons, including ones that are economic, like having several children and being unable to take care of another child, so the fetus is disposed of. For single mothers, there are reasons that push them to abandon their fetuses, such as the biological father’s refusal to claim it and the mother's inability to shoulder the responsibility on her own, as well as social reasons as a result of society's rejection of children born out of wedlock, which subjects the mother to discrimination, social stigma and abandonment by the family, and finds herself in the street, so they see that abortion is the solution to their problems.”
Belkassem criticizes the state's policy that encourages abortion rather than keeping the baby, which is reflected in awareness ads that assure women that they can have an abortion before reaching their third month of pregnancy. Also, in hospitals, girls who have had sexual relations outside marriage are encouraged to abandon the fetus and avoid social stigma, instead of defending their right to choose.
Close-mindedness and the prohibition of sex education
There is an absence of sexual education for both sexes in Tunisia, as girls who have sexual relations outside marriage rarely use contraception, and neither do men. When it comes to sex in our society, we learn it instinctively and it is one of the taboo topics that cannot be discussed in the family or school environment, and even with friends or the mother. This issue is very important because we must talk about sex education, including the sexual and body changes that occur to the girl or boy, so that people who want to have a sexual relationship outside marriage would have knowledge of important information, including that on pregnancy and abortion. A girl may even reach the stage of labor and childbirth without knowing that she is pregnant due to the absence of sex education, because society does not want to open up and insists on tying sex with morals.
Children born out of wedlock live in a difficult situation, as they are socially outcast and are not accepted by anyone, which drives many mothers to have abortions or abandon their newborns on the streets
People differ on the right to abortion in the entire world, unless it poses a threat to the life and safety of the mother, according to what psychologist and sexual medicine specialist Anas al-Awini confirmed to Raseef22, "Therefore, we cannot disagree on the right to life of every human being and fetus, whose right to life must be protected, and on the other hand the mother's right to be a mother (if she so desires), because motherhood is one of the noblest feelings and emotions that a human being can possess and gives drive and hope in life, as well as the will to continue living. A single mother is often forced to have an abortion due to the community and financial pressure, even though the right to life is far greater than all the mentioned obstacles, and the right to life for the fetus and the mother is a natural right. Depriving the mother of the right to motherhood is a very great injustice that will make a woman feel a great sense of sadness that may put her in a state of severe depression and deep sorrow. She may not be able to get rid of it because she will feel in her heart that she has lost something precious and dear, and she’ll be overwhelmed with a sense of injustice and oppression against her, which makes her exhibit anti-social behaviors against the society that oppressed and inflicted violence upon her and her body."
Institutions that deny the right to intimacy
There are many associations in Tunisia that foster children who have lost their families in some way, and these children are placed there with judicial permission by the family judge. These associations suffer from many internal problems, the most important of which is funding, which is mainly based on aid when a single mother is unable to keep her child.
The law provides the judge with a mechanism of foster care and adoption for families who want to sponsor or adopt a child through the judiciary.
There are also many centers for the care of children, including the National Institute for Child Protection in Manouba, which currently houses about 170 children. There is an administration that organizes this process with judges, families, the National Office for Family and Population, and hospitals. These institutions ensure health care, nutrition, and physical care for the child, which specialists deemed was insufficient during a field study on the challenges of caring for children without parental support, as the President of the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Children's Rights, Dr. Moez, saw that "placing babies children in institutions is medically, psychologically and socially undesirable… There is a tendency on the part of the state, at the urging of international organizations, to stop placing infants in these institutions because it deprives them of psychological care, which is an essential point in their first months of life and such institutions cannot provide them with this basic intimate relationship between the child and a person who is changed every week, two weeks or on a daily basis, which is what’s actually happening within these institutions. A child is supervised by 3 people a day and is unable to become attached to three people at the same time, which causes many imbalances and disruptions in the psychological and intimate development of children without parental support. This has very serious repercussions on lifelong development, and can cause psychological disability. This is why it is desirable to place children in alternative and foster families, it can be done through sponsorship or adoption to enable the child to have an intimate relationship and regularly interact with the same person, not just care and food. This issue is a main point in the principles of the child’s rights because everyone has the right to a family for balanced growth and development."