David Bull Escobar
Guatemala City, September 27 (EFE).- The absence of the Guatemalan state in matters of justice, education and health keeps thousands of girls and adolescents “invisible” and “without rights” who are victims of abuse and sexual violence every year in the Central American country.
This is confirmed by Myrna Montenegro, director of the Observatory of Sexual and Reproductive Health (Osar), in an interview with Efe about the situation of women in Guatemala.
“If we talk about girls who are victims of sexual violence, they are invisible, unprotected, without hope and without rights,” explained Montenegro, a doctor specializing in public and reproductive health and the leader of an NGO since 2008.
Said observatory, composed mainly of university medical faculties and women from the health sector, periodically reviews the increase in registered births among girls and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 throughout the territory of Guatemala.
In the first eight months of 2022, the organization registered 1,448 births or pregnancies to girls under the age of 14 who were raped in Guatemala, that is, almost five a day.
According to Montenegro’s analysis, of those 1,448 abused girls, in only 3 percent of those cases would the abuser be prosecuted, but with no certainty of conviction.
“The problem is that in Guatemala we have made progress on the issue of complaint but not on justice because 97% of complaints in the context of sexual violence go unpunished,” he explained.
The doctor illustrated the delay in justice with the case of an indigenous girl who gave birth to twins as a result of rape in 2019, and the Guatemalan judicial authority scheduled the trial of the rapist for August 2025, six years after the events.
IN RURAL AREAS
Most cases of pregnant girls and adolescents are concentrated in rural areas of Guatemala, such as the department (province) of Alta Verapaz, located in the north of the country, where 5,337 children under the age of 19 became mothers in 2022, according to the observatory .
In this region, many girls are raped by their immediate relatives or by the leaders of the farms where the Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities to which they belong are settled, as revealed by the fieldwork carried out by Montenegro.
“Alta Verapas looks like a system of feudal lords and slaves. Many families live on farms and the masters consider the girls part of their property. We found houses where there are 2 or 3 girls, victims of sexual violence, who are also carrying a baby,” the expert emphasized.
The effects of rape and forced motherhood can destroy victims’ life projects to the point of considering suicide, the expert warns.
“It has a total impact on girls’ lives, even suicide attempts. In 2020, we have 5 suicides of pregnant women under the age of 19,” explained the health official.
LOW INVESTMENTS IN EDUCATION AND HEALTH
In 2021, the Guatemalan Ministries of Education and Health signed the “prevent with education” letter, obliging them to ensure that schools and health centers have staff trained in comprehensive sexuality education and violence prevention.
In February of this year, however, pro-government lawmakers promoted a bill that sought to ban sex education in schools in the Central American country.
According to Montenegro, the political agenda of the Guatemalan congressmen represents a “regression in human rights”.
He also warns that the public budget that the Guatemalan government, presided over by Alejandro Jamatei, seeks to approve for 2023 will have a negative impact on preventive health projects.
“The 2023 budget will cut 4 million quetzals ($500,000) from the human papilloma virus vaccination program to prevent cervical cancer. The new budget will not be enough to vaccinate girls between 10 and 14 years”, warns Chernogorets.
In addition to this context, currently the only state economic support for girls who are victims of sexual violence is the “life program”, a bonus of 1,500 quetzals per year ($190), administered by the Ministry of Social Development.
“In Guatemala, we have made progress in registering victims, but we still have a long way to go to guarantee girls’ rights and recognize sexual violence as a medical emergency,” Montenegro concluded. EFE
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