A High Court judge in the deeply conservative kingdom of Swaziland (eSwatini) has started a debate about legalising abortion.

Judge Qinisile Mabuza heard a case involving a 26-year-old woman who was accused of causing the death of her four-year-old son, by drowning him in a river.

The eSwatini Observer reported that the child’s father had denied paternity, leaving her to rise the child herself. This prompted the judge to question what provisions were available for women who found themselves in similar situations.

The Swazi Constitution provides that abortion might be allowed on medical or therapeutic grounds, including where a doctor certifies that continued pregnancy will endanger the life or constitute a serious threat to the physical health of the woman; continued pregnancy will constitute a serious threat to the mental health of the woman; there is serious risk that the child will suffer from physical or mental defect of such a nature that the child will be irreparably seriously handicapped.

However, no law exists to put the constitutional provisions into effect.

According to the Observer, ‘In her subsequent remarks, she [Judge Mabuza] hinted that she viewed the current situation as shackling women’s autonomy, making an undertaking to tackle the current ban on abortion before she retires from the bench.

‘In fact, the learned judge believes it would be reasonable to allow women to make a decision on whether to perform an abortion.’