Today at the UN Human Rights Council, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) used a review of Paraguay’s human rights record to highlight the grave situation in the country for women and girls, particularly in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
IHEU director of advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, drew attention to the cruel and restrictive abortion laws, the lack of sex education, the culture of child abuse and the criminalisation of doctors consenting to give an abortion. She also noted that, “persisting stereotypes regarding the role of women in Paraguay, discriminatory traditional attitudes, and the negative influence of some religious beliefs and cultural patterns exacerbate the situation for women and girls seeking the realisation of the rights and equality they deserve.”
O’Casey reminded the Council of the case last year in which a 10-year old girl, raped by her stepfather, was forced by the authorities to carry her pregnancy to term, and called on Paraguay to reform its laws with urgency.
The IHEU previously wrote and submitted a written statement on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Latin America, which raised in more detail these issues.
Her statement follows in full below:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN Human Rights Council, 32nd Session (13th June – 1st July 2016)
Universal Periodic Review – Paraguay
The IHEU is deeply concerned about the rights of women and girls in Paraguay, particularly in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Abortion is prohibited in the Criminal Code (even in cases of sexual violence and incest or when the foetus is not viable) and women and girls who undergo an abortion, as well as anyone carrying out the procedure, face imprisonment. Sentences range from two to eight years.
This, despite the high rate of child and adolescent sexual abuse, pregnancy, and risk of maternal death to young girls. 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.
We are all familiar with the case of the ten-year-old who became pregnant last year after having been raped by her stepfather and who was refused an abortion by the authorities, backed by the Church. It serves as a deeply disturbing example of the results of Paraguay’s cruel laws and culture surrounding reproductive rights and child abuse.
The lack of proper education on SRHR only compounds this. Students are often provided with unscientific or inaccurate information and the school system is strongly influenced by religious ideas and ideology, which are too often dictated by those seeking to control women.
Persisting stereotypes regarding the role of women in Paraguay, discriminatory traditional attitudes, and the negative influence of some religious beliefs and cultural patterns exacerbate the situation for women and girls seeking the realisation of the rights and equality they deserve.
Accordingly, echoing what has been recommended by a number of UN experts and other civil society actors, we urge Paraguay to:
- Repeal all legislation criminalizing women and girls for having an abortion, as well as those performing such services.
- Adopt a law on sexual and reproductive health, and introduce evidence-based impartial sex education.
- Harmonize its domestic legislation with CEDAW, and implement specific policies to advance women’s rights and eradicate violence against women.