Today, on the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) called on the UN to do more about the critical situation for women and girls in much of Latin America and the Caribbean (grouped by the UN as ‘GRULAC’ states) in terms of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Speaking at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Head of Delegation, Elizabeth O’Casey, drew on a written statement submitted by the IHEU to the Council which detailed the ways in which women and girls’ right to life, health, equality and freedom from discrimination are ignored by poor SRHR care and deeply restrictive abortion laws. Deaths from unsafe abortions amount to thousands per year in the GRULAC region. The statement also discusses the role of religious and societal conservatism in maintaining the status quo and describes a backdrop of gender inequality and deeply rooted discriminatory stereotypes relegating women to the sphere of social reproduction.
In the statement, the IHEU calls on the UN to do far more to make clear that the right to health, as understood by human rights law, includes reproductive rights and compels States to comply with such standards. It urged GRULAC HRC members and observer States to recognise that restrictive abortion and contraception laws constitute significant barriers to women fulfilling their SRHR and called on them to remove any criminal sanctions on reproductive health services.
In her oral intervention to the Council, O’Casey highlighted the lack of SRHR protection with regard to girl children specifically, outlining how it converges with the pervasive phenomenon of child sexual abuse and family violence in the region to create a betrayal of their human rights and dignity.
Her statement follows below in full:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 30th Session (14th September – 2nd October 2015)
General Debate, Item 8
The IHEU would like to draw the Council’s attention to our written statement [A/HRC/30/NGO/129] outlining some serious concerns and recommendations we have regarding the failure by some GRULAC States to protect the SRHRs of women and girls in the region.
In this intervention, I will concentrate on the lack of SRHR protection for the girl child specifically, and how it converges with the phenomenon of child abuse to create a betrayal of her human rights and dignity. I refer the Council to paragraph 21 of the Vienna Declaration which states that “National and international mechanisms and programmes should be strengthened for the defence and protection of children, in particular, the girl-child.”
A number of GRULAC states have seen a rise in pregnancies among girls aged 10-14 over the past 15 years – almost always as a result of abuse. It has been reported that in Bolivia, 34% of girls have suffered sexual abuse before age 18 and in El Salvador in 2013, nearly two-thirds of cases of reported rape involved girls under 15 or classified as “mentally incapacitated.” In Paraguay, it is reported that two births a day occur among girls aged 10 to 14, and many are the result of sexual abuse by relatives and stepfathers. One such case was that of a ten-year-old who became pregnant after having been raped by her stepfather and was refused an abortion last year. The girl gave birth this August, aged 11, by caesarean section. [Likewise, in 2013, a 14-year-old Chilean girl gave birth to her father’s son. Her family wanted her to abort but the doctor refused.]
These cases illustrate the horrific consequences of child abuse and teen pregnancy intersecting cruelly with the rigid restrictions on abortion in some GRULAC states.
It is not just girls’ health that is threatened but their freedom too; across the region, girls have been imprisoned for the crime of abortion. Last year in El Salvador alone, six girls were charged.
Today is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. It’s time to protect the girl-child, to protect her life, health and dignity. We ask the Council to consider this issue with some urgency.