Longstanding plague of child abuse and extreme abortion laws fuel crisis, report says
An average of two girls between 10 and 14 give birth every day in Paraguay, thanks to a toxic combination of widespread child abuse and draconian abortion laws, according to a new Amnesty International report.
Paraguay has one of the highest rates of child and teen pregnancy in Latin America, a region that, as a whole, has the second-highest rates in the world.
The country has long been plagued by sexual violence against children, with a string of high-profile cases prompting global outrage. In 2015, an 11-year-old girl known by the pseudonym “Mainumby” (Hummingbird) was forced to give birth despite condemnation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN.
But in addition to the alarming numbers of 10- to 14-year olds forced to carry their pregnancies to term, Paraguay – which has a population of just 7 million – saw more than 12,000 girls aged between 15 and 19 give birth in 2019.
“By action and omission, Paraguay is turning its back on its girls and teenagers as they face unimaginable abuses,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
The Amnesty International report published on Wednesday points to inadequate action to tackle cultural tolerance of sexual abuse of children, stating that 80% of cases take place within the family circle. Perpetrators are most frequently the victim’s stepfather, father, grandfather, neighbour or uncle.
“It’s rooted in the patriarchal and machista culture we have in our society,” Aníbal Cabrera, executive director of the Paraguayan Coordination Group for the Rights of Children and Adolescents (CDIA), said. “As long as we keep seeing this as normal, the abuse and violence will continue.”
Cabrera said Indigenous children were especially vulnerable. A series of cases of horrendous sexual violence towards Indigenous girls caused outrage in 2020.
Paraguay’s public prosecutor’s office recorded a daily average of 12 cases of sexual violence against children and adolescents in 2019. Health officials told Amnesty International that they suspect five cases go unreported for every one that is recorded.
Paraguay’s strict abortion laws – some of the most extreme in the Americas – give child and adolescent abuse victims few options if they become pregnant. Abortion is only granted in very rare cases where the mother’s life is recognised to be in danger.
“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,” said Guevara-Rosas.
Paraguay has shown no signs of following the path of countries in the region that have relaxed abortion laws. Paraguayan social organisations closely followed developments as neighbouring Argentina legalised abortion in 2020.
Child and adolescent mothers also face dire circumstances after giving birth. The report signals that a 2018 law promising consolidated comprehensive care for children and adolescents who survive sexual abuse has yet to be finalised and implemented.
Highly conservative groups wield great political power in Paraguay, and both chambers of the country’s congress have declared themselves “pro-life and pro-family” in recent years.
“That’s the double moral standards we see in Paraguay,” said Cabrera. “They declare themselves pro-life and pro-family but don’t allocate resources to institutions or to a programme to care for child victims of sexual abuse.”
Conservative sectors have also repeatedly blocked the implementation of comprehensive sexual education, a measure called for by the report as vital for combatting child sexual abuse and pregnancy.
In 2017 the country’s education ministry outlawed all references to “gender theory and/or ideology” in the education system.
Paraguay’s broader policies to guarantee the rights of children have also been criticised by international organisations. The government has repeatedly refused to investigate the killing of two 11-year-old Argentinian girls by state anti-guerrilla forces in 2020, despite continued pressure from the Argentinian government and international human rights bodies.
“We have a real problem here: the state doesn’t accept its role as the body responsible for implementing public policy and for guaranteeing rights,” said Cabrera.