Sexual violence against young and adolescent girls is widespread in Paraguay. The majority of the time a young girl becomes pregnant it is a result of sexual violence. The country has one of the highest child and adolescent pregnancy rates in Latin America. An estimated 20% of women who experience sexual violence in Paraguay are under 15 years-old. The country also has one of the highest child pregnancy rates in Latin America, along with extremely limited abortion access.
Sexual Violence in Paraguay
Sexual violence against young and adolescent girls is widespread in Paraguay and the country has one of the highest child and adolescent pregnancy rates in Latin America. An estimated 20% of girls who experience sexual violence in Paraguay are under 15 years old.
In 2014, the Paraguayan Public Ministry Complaints Office received 688 complaints of sexual abuse involving minors under 14 years of age, but those numbers did not distinguish between female and male complainants. By May 2015, the Department of Criminal Complaints of the Public Ministry had already received reports of 421 cases of sexual abuse of children and adolescents. And these are just the abuses that are being reported.
What is the connection between sexual violence and child and adolescent pregnancy in Paraguay?
Many child and adolescent pregnancies in Paraguay are the result of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a crime rooted in control.
Preventing women and girls from accessing their range of reproductive health choices is similarly rooted in a desire to control female bodies and lives, including their health as well as educational, economic and civic opportunities. Forced pregnancy is a violation of human rights and denies a woman or girl her right to health. Poor education about and difficulty obtaining contraception are additional barriers to girls enjoying their lives.
In Paraguay, although abortion is legal in cases where the life of the mother is at a serious risk, which is often the case with young girls who are pregnant, the procedure can be extremely difficult to obtain, and prevailing cultural prejudices toward abortion can further hinder a woman or girl’s access to care.
The number of births to girls between the ages of 10-14 in Paraguay is staggeringly high. In 2015, the government reported 676 births to young girls between 10 and 14 years old. An additional 20,009 children were born to girls between 15-19 years old in 2015, but it is likely that the actual number is much higher because survivors are often hesitant to report sexual violence, furthermore, these numbers only represent births at government-run medical institutions, as opposed to those taking place in a home or elsewhere.
What’s the impact of sexual violence and forced child and adolescent pregnancy in Paraguay ?
In addition to the psychological impacts of sexual violence, along with the limited economic, educational, and civic opportunities that occur in tandem with forced motherhood, giving birth before a girl’s body is physically ready to do so can pose a serious risk to her physical health.
A girl’s body is not physically developed enough to give birth. Early childbearing can also result in an increased risk of miscarriage, difficulties during labor, postpartum hemorrhaging, and obstetric fistula, which can occur when a girl gives birth before her body is physically ready to do so. Additional barriers also prevent young girls from receiving adequate care and medical advice throughout their pregnancy.
- Globally, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15-19 years old, with an estimated 70,000 girls dying each year of pregnancy and childbirth related complications.
- According to data collected by UNICEF, in Paraguay maternal deaths of adolescents account for 20% of all maternal deaths in the country.
- A baby born to an adolescent mother between 15-19 years old is at significantly greater risk of infant mortality, with stillbirths and newborn deaths at 50 percent higher rates than for mothers who gave birth at age 20 and older.
What Does the Law in Paraguay Say?
Even though the Penal Code criminalizes forced sexual acts, sexual abuse of minors, and incest, it is unlikely a perpetrator will be convicted.
In 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a request that precautionary measures be taken in support of a case. In accordance with Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the Paraguayan government to protect
“The life and personal integrity of the child, to ensure that she has access to adequate medical treatment for her situation and the treatment recommended by the specialists, in light of the technical guidelines of the World Health Organization and other similar sources applicable to the sexual and reproductive health of girls and adolescents, in which all the options available are assured”
among other measures to ensure the girl’s rights were protected.
What Progress Has Been Made?
It is unclear what actions the Paraguayan government has taken to protect young and adolescent girls against sexual violence or to ensure that police and prosecutors are appropriately investigating and prosecuting these cases. It is imperative that the government work to:
- prevent stigma against adolescent victims of sexual abuse
- encourage young girl and adolescent mothers to return to school
- provide support services to young girls and adolescent mothers
Between 2014-2018, Paraguay’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare issued a National Plan on Reproductive Health, which included a national strategy to prevent pregnancy in girls aged 10-14 and preventing sexual violence. In 2010, Paraguay also enacted a law on the Protection of Pregnant and Parent Female Students, which establishes and outlines procedures to ensure pregnant school girls are able to stay in school and receive their education and parental training classes.
However, as our regional partner CLADEM points out in their 2016 report, Girl Mothers, these programs are poorly funded and underenforced by the government, rendering them ineffective. Furthermore, in May 2019, the Minister of Childhood and Adolescence stated that “We have greater numbers than before …. We were having 4 births per day by adolescents and now they are talking about 8 [adolescent births per day] we have really elevated numbers.”
What Is Equality Now Doing About This?
In March 2017, we successfully participated in an IACHR hearing with the Paraguayan government, where we urged Paraguay to honor the commitments it made to in June 2015 and to follow regional human rights standards.
To stop the rampant sexual abuse and forced child pregnancy in the country, we have proposed the IACHR visit Paraguay and host a Working Meeting with high-level stakeholders, including representatives from the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare, the National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents, and the Ministry for Women.
In addition to recommendations on how the State should prevent, punish and eradicate sexual violence against girls, we also proposed exploring law firm partners to determine whether to pursue a case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Read more about sexual violence laws in the Americas in our 2021 report, Failure to Protect: How Discriminatory Sexual Violence Laws and Practices are Hurting Women, Girls, and Adolescents in the Americas