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Prayer for the Departed: True story of assault, abortion, death of 14-year-old

A film based on the real life experiences of a 14-year-old school girl’s experience with sexual assault, abortion and death, premiered in Nairobi on Friday at the Prestige Cinema.

Titled Prayer for the Departed, the film portrayed how the young girl, only identified as JMM, was raped and got pregnant; and after she sought abortion services from a quack doctor, she was denied life saving healthcare in government funded hospitals.

She eventually died of kidney failure.

Nick Smith, the Executive Producer of the movie, said the film was an opportunity to humanize and put flesh and blood to court judgments that often sound technical and abstract but have real people’s lives behind them.

“JMM died three years after she was raped and sought out an unsafe abortion. She died after suffering through kidney problems for three years in a healthcare system that stigmatized her and depleted her family’s meagre financial resources. She died while her case was still going on in court,” said Mr Smith.

“Her story is not unique, but we hope that through this story, the High Court ruling based on her story will finally be implemented by the Ministry of Health,” he explained.

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Renowned Kenyan actor Raymond Ofula (Country Queen and Makutano Junction) played the role of JMM’s lawyer in the film.

“The film is a story meant for the people. If the message does not reach you, if you do not identify with anything we have said or done in the story, then we have failed. I hope we will continue to support each other and help the film industry grow,” the veteran actor said

Nairobi Woman Representative, Esther Passaris, who was present at the film premiere, she said the country had its work cut out for it to educate society on the importance of protecting girls from sexual violation and violence.

Ms Passaris also revealed plans to unveil the first government-owned safehouse for victims of sexual and gender-based violence in Nairobi.

“Nobody gets pregnant to have an abortion. People get pregnant through a myriad of circumstances, and this movie has shown just how complex the issue is. We have so much work to do to educate the society on the need to protect girls from rape and other forms of sexual violations,” Passaris said.

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“We need more men to stand up against rape. We also remember every woman, child, man, boy that has suffered sexual and gender based violence. We look forward to naming the first government owned safehouse in memory of JMM,” she said.

Also present during the film premiere was Suba North Member of Parliament, Millie Odhiambo, who said: “Our role as Members of Parliament is to translate what you have watched into law. This is why my colleague Passaris, others and I have been working on a bill to tackle reproductive health, which will work hand-in-hand with the Sexual Offences Act.”

“When people don’t see real life situations, they will argue from an academic perspective. They will read the Bible for us like we are not Christians ourselves. But we see real life situations daily. The proposed law is named ‘Family Reproductive Healthcare Bill’ because, as you have seen in the movie, this issue affected every member of her family, not just the girl,” she explained.

In a 2019 High Court decision, the judge found that the Director of Medical Services and the Ministry of Health had violated the rights of Kenyan women and girls by arbitrarily withdrawing the Standards and Guidelines for Reducing Morbidity and Mortality from Unsafe Abortion in Kenya.

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