IN PARAGUAY, draconian abortion laws and systemic failure to tackle child sexual violence have forced girls as young as 10 years old to carry out full-term pregnancies, Amnesty International found in a new report. 

The 63-page report – They are girls, not mothers – focuses on sexual violence against children – specifically girls under the age of 14 – who become pregnant and are forced to carry the pregnancy to term. It also analyses the failures of the system in Paraguay to address cases of sexual violence against children and teenagers.

The findings are based on the experiences of a large number of professionals in the fields of health, education and justice.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said: “By action and omission, Paraguay is turning its back on its girls and teenagers as they face unimaginable abuses. Although on paper there is a legal framework to support survivors of sexual violence, in practice they are at the mercy of a chaotic system that does not listen to them or prioritise their well-being and instead focuses on forcing girls to carry pregnancies to term.

“Girls have the right to a life free of violence. Forcing someone to continue with a pregnancy, particularly when it is the result of rape, is a form of ill-treatment that can be considered torture. Despite some legislative advances in recent years, Paraguay has failed to put in place sufficient measures to protect the most vulnerable people in society.”

A sexual violence crisis

In 2019 alone, the Public Prosecutor’s Office received, on average, 12 reports of sexual violence against children and teenagers every day. Experts estimate that for every two cases they know of, there may be at least 10 others.

Most of the abuse takes place in the family environment and, in some cases, the abuse results in pregnancy. It’s also found that an average of two girls between the ages of 10 and 14 give birth every day. At least 1,000 girls aged 14 and under gave birth in Paraguay between 2019 and 2020.

In addition, more than 12,000 teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth in 2019. Many of these pregnancies may also have been the result of sexual violence, lack of comprehensive sexual education, inadequate information on prevention of early pregnancy or insufficient access to sexual and reproductive health services.

For girls, options are often very limited, despite the enormous risks that early childbirth can pose to their bodies and lives. Girls under the age of 15 are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, in addition to being at greater risk of premature birth.

Draconian abortion laws

Paraguay continues to have some of the most restrictive laws in the Americas regarding access to safe and legal abortion. Termination of pregnancy is a crime punishable by imprisonment, with the exception of cases where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

Without options, many girls end up living with their abusers or in children’s homes where they are often pressured to become mothers, and are subjected to further abuse, deprived of any possibility of a quality education and dignified life plans.

In 2018, Paraguay adopted Law 6202 to prevent sexual abuse and guarantee comprehensive care for child and teenage survivors. However, almost three years later, the roadmap for its implementation has not yet been finalised.

Paraguayan authorities are also not promoting early detection, not providing comprehensive sexual education with a gender focus, are not coordinating and streamlining their response to avoid secondary revictimisation and are ignoring advice from professionals’ response to sexual violence against girls and teenagers.

Amnesty’s recommendation to the authorities

Paraguayan authorities must immediately introduce Comprehensive Sexual Education to ensure that girls, boys and teenagers have the necessary skills to speak out if they are threatened by sexual violence.

They must also finalise the long-awaited single pathway to provide comprehensive care for survivors of sexual abuse and put in place a national programme to support those who become pregnant and are forced to carry the pregnancy to term, to help them rebuild their lives and overcome the severe long-term damage that sexual violence can inflict.

* Download the report here.

* Source: Amnesty International