Taboo on premarital sex can lead to tragedy in changing Oman

Wed Jan 2, 2013 4:15pm EST
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By Saleh and Al-Shaibany

MUSCAT (Reuters) - When unmarried 19-year-old Sama got pregnant, she ran away from home to have an abortion rather than face family wrath.

The young man who got her pregnant had refused to marry her, saying he could not afford the financial burden. So she went to share a room with a friend in a university hostel in the Omani capital Muscat, 450 km (280 miles) away from her hometown of Buraimi in the north of the Gulf Arab state.

The abortionist was her friend's aunt, a 76-year-old woman who boasted that she had successfully terminated over 200 fetuses in a long, illegal career. The operation in April last year proved nearly fatal for Sama.

"It was extremely painful and I nearly bled to death. I stayed in hospital for a week recovering from the botched procedure," Sama, who requested that her family name not be used to protect her identity, told Reuters.

Oman, a conservative Muslim country, is grappling with the strains of modernization.

Two decades of fast economic growth, fuelled by oil exports, have raised living standards and increased people's freedom of movement, giving men and women more day-to-day contact than they would have back in their tribal villages.

At the same time, cultural attitudes have not shifted nearly as much: pregnancy out of wedlock is widely regarded as a sin and young women can face severe beatings at the hands of their families. In addition, a family's honor can be damaged by the disclosure of a pregnancy.

The result is that a substantial number of women feel they have to abort secretly rather than bring shame to their parents, social workers say. Doctors are told by the government to obtain the permission of a patient's parents to conduct an abortion.   Continued...