IMMIGRANT support group KISA Friday called on the attorney-general to suspend the prosecution of a Filipina who gave birth to a dead foetus which she put in a suitcase to be buried, also calling on the state for her immediately release.
In a statement, the group referred to the woman with the pseudonym ‘Cyrel Reyes’ in order to protect her anonymity saying she had gone to hospital due to a haemorrhage and additional health problems which ensued after her miscarriage only to have hospital staff alert the police, resulting in her arrest.
KISA’s Doros Polycarpou told the Cyprus Mail “This migrant woman was arrested due to the fact that the police failed to believe her account about what had happened to her. Since her arrest, she remains in custody. Furthermore, following her arrest, the media slandered her with articles and titles describing the incident as ‘infanticide’ and alleging she had an ‘illegal abortion.’ The accusations that CR has endured are in no means justified, especially considering the minor offences CR was charged with in court.”
According to Polycarpou the vast majority of migrant women in Cyprus have no access to health care and especially antenatal care and screening. Visits to hospitals by undocumented migrant women even in emergency situations and even when they pay, invariably lead to arrests, detention, deportation, and sometimes to their criminal prosecutions, as in the Filipina’s case.
“On July 25th CR was charged for the minor offences of concealment of child birth, participating in a conspiracy with another person for the concealment of child birth and overstaying her visa in Cyprus. It is evident from the charges that the accusations the media and a large portion of the public opinion laid against her are not valid. It is also evidence of the reality the great majority of migrant women, especially domestic workers, face in this country.”
The fact that the woman was reported to the police by health professionals and the way she was publicly slandered, according to Polycarpou are indicative of Cypriot society’s attitude towards the rights of women in general, to have control over their own bodies and to decide for themselves.
“The reality is even harsher for migrant women as racism intersects with sexism in the construction of the ‘dangerous other’ and this is evident in the case of CR. In a deeply racist and sexist society where women are being denied their basic human right to body autonomy and migrant women cannot even access health care, it is unfortunately no surprise that a migrant woman is being slandered in such a way.”
Polycarpou said it was clear that when women, especially migrants have no antenatal screening or care and resort to unsafe abortion methods with no medical care after a miscarriage, this is because they are forced to by the policies and practices of the state. This deprives them of the right to healthcare as well as to ownership and control of their own bodies.
“Cyrel Reyes is being prosecuted for being a poor, undocumented, migrant and a woman. As such, she is not privileged enough to have access to health care or recognition of being her own agent.” said Polycarpou, calling on the state to grant access to the public healthcare system to all women, including migrant women, regardless of their resident status.
“The state has to protect women’s reproductive rights and their rights to their body autonomy, including the right to abortion, for all women, including migrant women.”
The 30-year-old was taken to hospital haemorrhaging and in an exhausted state on July 14. Following examinations, it was ascertained she had been carrying a child for 20 to 25 weeks and had given birth earlier that day.
On being taken by police for a remand order, the court was told that despite repeated questioning by doctors, the woman denied she had gone into labour and insisted that she had only been bleeding. She remained in hospital for treatment but it was not until July 18 that she finally admitted to doctors that she had been pregnant since January and had given birth the day she was brought to hospital. She said that the baby had been stillborn.
She said she had placed the foetus in a suitcase and called a friend, asking him to bury it. She maintained she never told the friend what the suitcase contained.
Police were called in after this revelation and investigations began to locate both foetus and the person who had buried it, information the 30-year-old initially refused to give.
She told police she had not gone to hospital while pregnant because she feared being deported as her residence permit had expired.
Police eventually recovered the foetus which was buried in a wooded area in a suitcase. A Pakistani man, also arrested and remanded, admitted burying the new-born and showed police its location.