By Phil Harris
ROME (IDN) – She is 10-years-old when she is raped by her mother’s companion and becomes pregnant. Extremely ill, undernourished and underweight during her pregnancy, her mother requests an abortion and although the law permits termination of a pregnancy if authorities deem the carrier’s health is in danger, the request is denied by the State.
The girl’s mother is arrested and temporarily imprisoned for failing in her duty of care to her daughter, despite having previously reported the abuse to the police, who did not act.
Meanwhile, the State sends the girl to an institution against her wishes, where she is made to stay until the birth of her child. She is not allowed any visitors, apart from an aunt who is allowed to come once a week for two hours.
Against the odds, the girl survives her pregnancy and gives birth to a daughter.
Now a 12-year-old mother, she receives a miserable government stipend worth the equivalent of 50 dollars to care for herself and her daughter. As well as struggling financially, she is also finding it difficult to catch up on the education she missed through pregnancy, illness and being so badly bullied at school that she had to stop attending.
A DNA test has confirmed that girl’s abuser is the father of her child and, although in prison, he is still awaiting trial.
This is not fiction. The girl is Mainumby (not her real name) and she lives in Paraguay. Neither is hers an isolated case – forced child pregnancy is an issue not just in Paraguay, but throughout Latin America, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM).
In a 2016 report titled Child Mothers. Forced Child Pregnancy and Motherhood in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on information from 14 countries, CLADEM found that tens of thousands of girls are raped and become pregnant in Paraguay and across Latin America every year.
“Forced child pregnancy is a serious problem in the region and there has not yet been an effective response from governments, says Elba Nuñez, Regional Coordinator for CLADEM in Paraguay. “Across Latin America, thousands of girls under the age of 15 suffer from sexual violence and are forced to become mothers against their wishes. This represents a serious public health and human rights problem. The negative consequences that a girl faces are physical, emotional and social.”
According to Nuñez, “many girls like Mainumby are ‘interned’ in philanthropic institutions or homes run by religious groups linked to the Catholic Church, and are under court order to force them to continue their pregnancy. Some of their mothers are accused and detained for violating their duty of care, even though they have reported sexual abuse and the authorities have failed to protect the victims.”
“Forced child pregnancy is violence – the result of sexual abuse and rape,” says Shelby Quast, Director of the Americas Office of Equality Now, a non-governmental organisation founded in 1992 which works for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world.
“Events leading up to the pregnancy and the pregnancy itself are deeply traumatic for a child and have lifelong implications, both psychological and physical. The body of a child mother is not fully developed and so pregnancy is often damaging to her reproductive system and other organs that are not yet ready for childbirth.”
In Paraguay, a recent report from the Paraguayan Ministry of Health revealed that 684 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 gave birth in 2014 – and that number was even higher in 2015. Paraguay has one of the highest rates of pregnancy among adolescents aged 10-14 years in Latin America, and nearly one in three girls in the country will suffer physical, emotional or sexual abuse by the age of 19.
In Paraguay, notes Nuñez, “there is a serious pattern of impunity towards the perpetrators of sexual abuse, firstly because of the fear that girl victims feel about denouncing abuse, given that attackers are predominantly a close relative.“If the mother is a victim of gender violence, it also hinders implementation of the complaint. Secondly, there is a lack of effective response by the justice system to investigate and deal appropriately with the abuse.
“Paraguay also lacks a framework for sexuality education in the school system to prevent cases of sexual abuse and enable the empowerment of girls and early detection. In addition to this, there are no protocols to care for cases of child pregnancy in order to avoid greater risks and provide adequate protection.”
Quast stresses the need for protocols, saying that “the creation of clear protocols is vital, and professionals such as police, doctors and teachers require training in how to respond appropriately and report sexual violence. Both perpetrators and duty bearers must be held accountable.”
According to Quast, “girls in Paraguay who experience sexual violence and assault are not receiving adequate protection from the State.” In addition, “religious fundamentalists and others groups, including some government officials, are threatening victims and human rights defenders to keep them quiet.
“Many want discussions to focus only on abortion, whereas organisations such as Equality Now and CLADEM are challenging the deep-rooted social norms and practices that allow the sexual assault and rape of girls to continue with impunity.”
To achieve positive change, says Quast, “conversation and action must incorporate prevention and the State has to improve how it responds holistically when girls are raped, not just concentrate on the pregnancies that result from this horrific violence.
“The State needs to provide stronger support for victims, especially child victims of sexual violence, and to human rights defenders who assist them. Awareness has to be raised about the widespread problem of sexual assault against girls, with community and religious leaders speaking out against sexual violence.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 9 June 2017]
Photo: Across Latin America, thousands of girls under the age of 15 suffer from sexual violence and are forced to become mothers against their wishes. Credit: YouTube
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate