Nairobi - Two new mothers who were detained and abused in a Kenyan hospital for not paying their maternity bills have won compensation in a landmark court ruling that campaigners hope will put a stop to the widespread practice.
Maimouna Awuor, who was held for 20 days, and Margaret Anyoso, detained for six days, were confined in small, crowded and insanitary rooms with their babies and made to sleep on the floor in dirty clothes.
The women will receive 1.5 million Kenya shillings ($14 300) and 500 000 Kenya shillings ($4 750)respectively in compensation from Nairobi County government, which was also ordered to pay the costs of the suit.
"We are very excited," Evelyne Opondo, Africa director for the Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) advocacy group, which brought the case to court, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"It's landmark in many ways."
Thursday's High Court ruling found that the women were discriminated against on the basis of their gender and social status.
High maternal death rate
"It affects women more than men because women are generally the ones that give support to people who are sick," said Opondo.
"When children are detained, they will be detained with their mothers."
Awuor and Anyoso were detained in 2010 at government-owned Pumwani Maternity Hospital, the largest facility in east Africa, despite a national policy of waiving charges for the poor.
Anyoso said staff told her she was stupid, not knowing that she had become pregnant after being raped.
Awuor was held with 60 women next to an overflowing toilet. One of them, whose baby had died, was denied treatment for an infected caesarean section. She eventually passed out and had undergo surgery again.
Women are often detained for debts of around $20 but these can rise to $5 000 if they are held for long periods, Opondo said. Indebted patients are charged for each additional day that they are held as an incentive for relatives to clear the bills.
"It's really not free on the ground"
"When you realise they are not able to pay, you [should] release them very quickly, and let them go and work and bring the money," she said.
Kenya introduced free maternity services in 2013 in a bid to cut its high maternal death rate.
But the policy is not being implemented as the government has not provided hospitals with sufficient funding, Opondo said.
"It's really not free on the ground," she said. "A lot of women still have to pay and a lot of people are still being detained... This is a rampant problem throughout the country."